The thing I get asked the most about M. Night Shyamalan‘s Knock at the Cabin is if it’s faithful to the book. I have not read Paul G. Tremblay’s book, but I get why people ask this question. I won’t give away that answer here, but it is interesting that people who have read the book seem hesitant to the idea of watching a live-action rendering of that ending and, from what I gather, are hoping that it has been changed. This seems unusual.
Knock at the Cabin is one of Shyamalan’s best films and may be my favorite since way back in his early run that included The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, and Signs. It’s eerie, it’s disturbing, but I also found myself tearing up at times.
Jonathan Groff and Ben Aldridge play Eric and Andrew, who are vacationing at a remote cabin with their young daughter, Wen (Kristen Cui). Wen is out catching bugs when she’s approached by Leonard (Dave Bautista), an imposing, but seemingly nice man – you know, other than the fact he’s stopping to have a fairly long conversation with a young girl in the middle of the woods. Leonard explains to Wen that he and his three companions need to get into the cabin to speak to Eric and Andrew. If they are not let in, they will force their way in.
Wen returns to tell Eric and Andrew of this news and, of course, they are not totally into the idea of four strangers with sinister-looking weapons entering their vacation home. Eventually, of course, the four do make it in and offer Eric and Andrew an extremely enticing offer: One of them has to kill the other or the world will end. Now, there are rules. The four invaders – which includes Leonard, Sabrina (Nikki Amuka-Bird), Adriane (Abby Quinn), and Redmond (Rupert Grint) – have all had visions about how this works and they are not allowed to directly harm Eric, Andrew, or Wen. Also, suicide won’t stop the world from ending. One must physically kill the other. If they decide not to go through with this, the three of them would survive, but everyone else on the planet will die.
Of course, like most reasonable people, Eric and Andrew think this is absurd. And, for that matter, think they are being targeted for being a same-sex couple. Leonard is adamant they did not know who would be in the cabin, the visions only told them to come to this particular cabin. The four-cabin invaders decide that “getting to know us” is the best way to gain Eric and Andrew’s trust. But, again, no amount of personal details about Leonard’s life is going to get them over the hump that this whole premise is crazy.
What’s interesting here is even as Leonard turns on the television to live newscasts of horrible tragedies being set off around the world, Eric and Andrew still don’t believe what they are being told. And I have to admit, yeah I don’t think I’d buy into even that either. As a skeptical person, I, too, would think this was all some trick. That this was some sort of prerecorded video. And that’s what this movie captures really well: what would it really take to convince a person to do something truly terrible because the world is at stake.
Everyone here is great, but the movie is sold by Bautista. His hovering, intimidating presence, combined with his calm and deliberate delivery makes for a wonderful performance. To the point, I’m not sure the movie works this well without him. Like, I don’t want to believe this very large man who just broke into a cabin, but on the other hand, he seems so caring and nice, I kind of do believe him. Bautista has turned into a fascinating actor. I don’t want to directly compare him to other actors who came from his other professional background, but he doesn’t seem to be in this for the fame (he has that) or the paycheck. He truly seems to want to do good work and I’m more and more impressed with him every time.
M. Night Shyamalan can be streaky with his movies, but he’s always going for something, even though it doesn’t always work. But I do appreciate that even when it doesn’t work, he’s still out there doing it. But when he hits one right, man he sure hits. And here he really is at his best. He lets the story breathe and he really does let all these actors drive what’s happening instead of putting something conflated in here to surprise us just for the sake of surprising us. (To be fair, sometimes that’s fun, but I’m glad he didn’t do that here.) And the result is a truly suspenseful film with a powerful, emotional ending. Again, it’s one of Shyamalan’s best.
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