TL;DR – An intense, claustrophobic look at the potential end of the world
Post-Credit Scene – There is an audio queue at the end but not something you need to stay for.
Disclosure – I paid to see this film
Warning – This film contains scenes that may cause distress.
Knock at the Cabin Review –
If you look across the media landscape, the post-apocalypse is all the rage at the moment, but what about an excellent old-fashioned apocalypse? A film about struggle against all odds, looking doom in the face, and maybe not getting out alive in the end. Today we look at just such a film that both embraces and is a bit sly about it simultaneously.
So to set the scene, Eric (Jonathan Groff), Andrew (Ben Aldridge), and Wen (Kristen Cui) have gotten away from the world and are spending some time relaxing in a cabin in the middle of the countryside. A perfect escape from the world, so remote there is no cell service among all the trees and picturesque lake you can swim in. It is a delight until one moment, Leonard (Dave Bautista) walks up to Wen when she is collecting grasshoppers. He tells her not to be afraid, but he and his friends need to get into the cabin her fathers are in, and they need the whole family for something special to stop the end of the world.
If there is one thing that Knock at the Cabin gets right over many of its contemporaries, that is the vibe of things. You are putting people in an impossible position. One must die so the world can live, and if you are doing that, you need to sell it. One way they do this is in the location. The cabin itself is expertly used to build tension from the first moment the four attackers arrive. It feels like a living building rather than just a set, with characters flowing naturally through it. It is a sanctuary, then a fortress, and then a prison.
There is a claustrophobic feel to the film that permeates every moment. To start with, this film only has seven members of the cast, creating an intimacy that claws at you. The foley work in this film is phenomenal, with every step on the wood floors building tension just as much as the eerie strings that permeate the musical score. You also see it in the cinematography, which is not surprising given their work on The Lighthouse. I don’t think I have ever thought of leaves as being menacing, but we got it here. There was also a use of light that was stunning to see, which fed back into the narrative.
What I liked about the story is that even when you took everyone at their word that they were being genuine, you could still come to very different conclusions. Are Leonard, Sabrina (Nikki Amuka-Bird), Adriane (Abby Quinn), and Redmond (Rupert Grint) prophets of an oncoming doom? Or are they just delusional members of a suicide cult? Is the world falling apart, or is it all a fake? Is there a God, or is it all just coincidence? The anger is coming from a real place, as is the desperation, and both combined create a juxtaposition of absurdity and a profoundly compelling narrative.
The narrative and setting are one thing, but it would all fall apart without the actors’ commitment, which we also get. Dave Bautista gives a masterclass in conflicted determination. There is so much nuance to his performance. You feel that he is a teacher with that stern caring attitude. Ben Aldridge channels some deeply righteous anger that is a perfect counterpoint. Every actor brings an intensity that builds upon the narrative’s more ritualistic aspects to create an almost palpable tension.
If there is one weakness in the film, it is the cutaways that happen throughout. Some of them are fine. They explore Eric and Andrew finding Wen in the orphanage. However, others are news reports about the purported apocalypse happening. I have never seen more disinterested news reports about the world falling apart. It takes you out of the film, every time they occur. It is also playing with a lot of themes, and not all of them work.
In the end, do we recommend Knock at the Cabin? This film builds with frightening speed until you can feel the tension in every moment. Much like Ambulance was for Michael Bay, this film feels like a more mature style of filmmaking from M. Night Shyamalan. If you liked Knock at the Cabin I would recommend to you Let Him Go.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Knock at the Cabin
Directed by – M. Night Shyamalan
Screenplay by – M. Night Shyamalan, Steve Desmond & Michael Sherman
Based on – The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul G. Tremblay
Music by – Herdís Stefánsdóttir
Cinematography by – Jarin Blaschke
Edited by – Noemi Katharina Preiswerk
Production/Distribution Companies – Blinding Edge Pictures, FilmNation Entertainment, Wishmore Entertainment & Universal Pictures
Starring – Jonathan Groff, Ben Aldridge, Kristen Cui, Dave Bautista, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Abby Quinn, Rupert Grint & M. Night Shyamalan
Rating – Australia: M; Canada: 14A; Germany: 12; New Zealand: M; United Kingdom: 15; United States: R