The master of the twist, M. Night Shyamalan, is back with his best film since 2016’s “Split.”  That’s not a very high bar considering his last two features were “Old” and the incredibly disappointing “Glass.”  Shyamalan shares the screen writing credit for “Knock at the Cabin” with Steve Desmond and Michael Sherman, who adapted the 2019 novel “The Cabin at the End of the World” by Paul Tremblay.

The movie wastes little time introducing us to the characters.  Seven-year-old Wen (Kristen Cui) is playing outside her parent’s vacation cabin, catching grasshoppers when she is approached by the Leonard (Dave Bautista).  Leonard is incredibly imposing but speaks with a soft voice and kindness.  Wen is wary at first, but quickly warms to Leonard.  It’s not until his three companions, Redmond (Rupert Grint), Adriane (Abby Quinn), and Sabrina (Nikki Amuka-Bird), approach that she realizes the danger they are in. Rushing inside, she quickly warns her parents, Eric (Jonathan Groff) and Andrew (Ben Aldridge) that scary people are coming to knock on the door.  “Jehovah’s Witnesses?” they joke.  The irony is there are few things scarier than Armageddon “true believers.”

After a quick scuffle in which Eric suffers a concussion, Leonard ties the men up and calmly explains why they are there.  The quartet have had shared visions and believe that the entire world will be destroyed by a series of plagues, unless the family picks one of their own to sacrifice.  It has to be a choice and cannot be suicide.  For the next hour of screentime, the movie plays with our expectations and doubts.  Who are these people?  Why was the family selected?  Do they all truly believe they are doing something for the greater good, or are they being manipulated by someone or something?  Through a handful of short flashbacks, it’s hinted that Eric used to be religious while Andrew is a cynic and likely atheist.  This dynamic, and Andrew’s concern about Eric’s concussion, further complicates how they interact with the intruders.

With almost all of the screentime taking place in within the cabin, it feels like it was adapted from a stage play, but this suits the story as it keeps the danger close and intimate.  Shyamalan does a great job at slowly increasing the tension throughout the film, while experimenting with more creative cinematography than we’ve seen from him in the past.  Each of the characters are believable in their actions and personal convictions, in large part thanks to the excellent performances.  It’s no surprise that Dave Bautista is the standout here, equally terrifying and fragile.  It’s a brilliant performance, definitely his best to date.

While the film is highly entertaining the first time through, it’ll be interesting to see if a second viewing is rewarding or not.  Most of the entertainment is via the mental chess game the characters are playing.  After knowing the outcome, will the film continue to entertain?  Those looking for Shyamalan‘s signature twist will also be disappointed.  The ending ties everything up nicely, and there are no last second revelations.  It’s nice that he is no longer relying on a gimmick to sell his stories, and instead focusing on fascinating characters and an un-willable scenario.


Knock at the Cabin