Say what you will about M. Night Shyamalan’s hit and miss ratio on making films, we can all likely agree it’s a wild pendulum swinging from brilliant to craptastic. He damn near scared me off for good with the all-time depths of “The Happening” but has crept back into enjoyment with “Split” and “Glass”.
So, what should I expect from his new thriller KNOCK AT THE CABIN? Will he present a great premise and then fail to deliver on it like he did with “Old”? The good news is that KNOCK gives us Shyamalan at his unflinching best. When he’s “on” as a writer and director, no one spins a clever concept quite as efficiently as Night.
With a running time of just 100 minutes, it gets moving quickly. We meet young Wen (a very good Kristen Cui) catching dragonflies in the idyllic woods in front of a picture-perfect cabin. Wen’s two dads Eric (Jonathan Groff) and Andrew (Ben Aldridge) are relaxing on the back porch, oblivious to what’s happening out front.
A huge, hulking tattooed man named Leonard slowly emerges from the woods, engaging in a gentle conversation with Wen. In his best screen performance to date, Dave Bautista (Spectre, Guardians of the Galaxy) weaves a very clever line between Mister Rogers and Hannibal Lecter. He’s excellent.
Leonard’s three friends emerge from the woods, carrying intimidating, ancient looking weapons. Leonard explains that they need to come in the cabin and talk to the family.
Wen retreats to the house, huddles down with Eric and Andrew and explains that the strangers said they must come in.
There are four wolves at the door and the three little pigs do NOT want them inside, but they DO enter the house, explaining that Eric, Andrew, and Wen must make an impossible “Sophie’s” choice to avoid the end of the world.
What unfolds is a very clever, engaging, and suspenseful mystery.
Are they run-of-the-mill religious nuts?
What are the visions that the four intruders all swear they’ve shared?
How do you react when strangers say they won’t hurt you, but if you don’t hurt yourself, billions will die?
Just how vengeful IS the God they all appear to be following?
M. Night weaves in short flashbacks of Eric and Andrews life that at first appear irrelevant, but slowly form a connection to the intruders.
When a major global disaster occurs, is it a coincidence?
What are the odds when another one occurs?
Shyamalan never flinches or chickens out with one of his goofy plot twists and for that, I’m thankful.
Nikki Amuka-Bird (Old) Rupert Grint (Harry Potter) and film newcomer Abby Quinn all deliver as the other three intruders. Groff (Hamilton) and Aldridge (Pennyworth) are both very good, conveying the horror or an impossible decision as tensions mount.
M Night shot the movie on 35mm film and introduces it with the old Universal Studios logo from the 80’s and 90’s. I tandem with the main titles, it gives KNOCK the feeling of a retro film from that era that you just found on the shelf. They are interesting choices that visually pay off.
Cinematographer Jarin Blaschke is most famous for his dark films with Robert Eggers, “The Northman” and “The Lighthouse” and he brings a sharp edge that compliments Night’s vision.
KNOCK AT THE CABIN kept me on the edge of my seat throughout. It feels like Night’s most complete film in recent memory.
With messages on sacrifice, religion and family that will likely be interpreted personally based on your beliefs or lack thereof, it never feels heavy handed like the DOA messaging in “The Happening”.
I was so busy enjoying the mystery, horror, and tension that I never had to worry about the fable aspects of the story.
KNOCK gets an appreciative and surprising B+.