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M. Night Shyamalan’s name became somewhat of a punching bag after movies, such as The Happening and The Last Airbender. However, he most recently took us on a thrilling trip to a mysterious beach in Old based on Pierre Oscar Levy and Frederik Peeters’ graphic novel, Sandcastle. Next, Shyamalan raised the stakes to potentially apocalyptic levels with Knock at the Cabin.

'Knock at the Cabin' movie review 3.5 star rating

‘Knock at the Cabin’ threatens a potential apocalypse

'Knock at the Cabin' Dave Bautista as Leonard, Abby Quinn as Ardiane, and Nikki Amuka-Bird as Sabrina standing in wood cabin looking shocked
L-R: Dave Bautista as Leonard, Abby Quinn as Ardiane, and Nikki Amuka-Bird as Sabrina | Universal Pictures

Based on Paul G. Tremblay’s 2018 novel, The Cabin at the End of the World, follows married couple Andrew (Ben Aldridge) and Eric (Jonathan Groff), who bring their young daughter, Wen (Kristen Cui), on vacation with them. They plan to enjoy their quality time together at a remote cabin until a stranger named Leonard (Dave Bautista) shows up along with his associates named Sabrina (Nikki Amuka-Bird), Adriane (Abby Quinn), and Redmond (Rupert Grint).

The sinister-looking group forces their way into the cabin with weapons in hand that they refer to as their “tools.” They hold the loving family hostage, asserting they’re the world’s only chance of avoiding the apocalypse. All they have to do is choose which one of them will be sacrificed to save all of humanity.

Purity, love, and sacrifice

Knock at the Cabin opens on a picturesque setting with the nature that surrounds the remote cabin. Wen is nearly 8 years old, making her old enough to be wary of strangers when Leonard suddenly approaches her. He finds Wen capturing grasshoppers in a jar, endearingly keeping a record of all the ones that she has so far. Wen’s dream is to work as a veterinarian as an adult, but she’s about to find herself trapped in a way not too different from the grasshoppers in the jar.

When Leonard first ties Andrew and Eric down in Knock at the Cabin, he puts on a kid’s cartoon show in an attempt to calm Wen’s nerves. He notes that the show’s message likely teaches about empathy and kindness, which is rich coming from him at this moment. This story is all about making choices, and not just the one entailing sacrifice. Andrew and Eric repeatedly promise to have one another’s back, having been through difficult moments themselves. The assailants beg for the family to hear them out to save the world, as their ramblings sound more concerning the further along that they yearn for them to make a choice.

Shyamalan’s screenplay he co-wrote with Steve Desmond and Michael Sherman, has a riveting urgency that kicks into gear from the very beginning. However, the story occasionally flashes back to earlier moments in their lives, such as Eric’s disastrous first meeting with Andrew’s parents and their adoption of Wen. These moments provide context to the couple’s marriage and the purity in their love that makes this situation all the more difficult.

‘Knock at the Cabin’ is a knock-out thriller with dramatic weight

'Knock at the Cabin' Ben Aldridge as Andrew, Kristen Cui as Wen, and Jonathan Groff as Eric. Andrew and Eric are tied up with Wen looking afraid, holding onto Andrew.
L-R: Ben Aldridge as Andrew, Kristen Cui as Wen, and Jonathan Groff as Eric | Universal Pictures

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Knock at the Cabin wastes no time, kicking off its underlying tension from the very first scene. Shyamalan doesn’t let off the gas pedal for the remainder of what’s mostly a one-location story. The cabin becomes a claustrophobic jar for these protagonists. Despite the film’s horror leanings, it primarily takes place during the day, as rays of sunshine fill the cabin, relying on tension to carry the terror.

The performances are solid across the board, with Aldridge and Groff portraying characters that are easy to get invested in. Despite having limited knowledge about them, we feel their determination to save their family, not truly caring about the world outside of it. But, Bautista is the clear standout in an ominously effective performance. His size is intimidating as he towers over the protagonists, but it’s his dramatic turn here that really makes him command the screen.

Similar to some of his other efforts, Shyamalan’s ending pales in comparison to what came before it. There’s too much of an attempt to tie everything up in a neat, pretty bow, even though ambiguity is thematically connected here. Nevertheless, it’s admirable that it’s more focused on reveals than hinging on a twist, which the filmmaker is notorious for.

The audience is frequently a step ahead of Shyamalan’s adaptation, but that doesn’t make it much less thrilling. Sincerely parlous performances in a confined setting deliver all the goods, creating a duality between purity and moral murkiness that’s rather effective. Knock at the Cabin is a vehement rat-a-tat of a film that is relentlessly fraught and captivating.

Knock at the Cabin comes knocking into theaters on Feb. 3.