I will be honest – Knock at the Cabin wasn’t on my radar at all. Ever since the Covid-19 outbreak, I have had to be a lot more selective with my moviegoing (because my nearest theater closed down and now my commute to the nearest plaza has doubled). For that reason, and because I am busier, often whatever film I watch has to clear a certain threshold of anticipation. Knock at the Cabin wouldn’t clear that threshold. Instead, I left my house to watch Infinity Pool, the new film from Brandon Cronenberg. That didn’t happen, and for that reason alone, I watched Knock at the Cabin and am now telling you about that (groundbreaking, I know).
I didn’t know anything about the film. I am not even certain I had watched a single trailer for it. All I knew was that Dave Bautista was in it and M. Night Shyamalan was at the helm. Sometimes that is all you need. I fully endorse watching movies as blind as you possibly can, especially because how often advertisements and promotional material will overexpose scenes and even outright spoil moments best experienced in the context of the film.
As a director, I have a mixed reaction to M. Night Shyamalan overall. Like many of you, I enjoyed his earlier films like Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, and was deterred by his later films like The Last Airbender and The Happening, which I carry a strong dislike for. In 2015, after a string of films I had no particular interest in, the director had a return-to-form of sorts with The Visit.
The film was rough-around-the-edges, but it had a unique premise and was able to keep me modestly invested. I have watched a lot of bad films and a lot of good films, and for me, The Visit landed at the exact cutoff point of falling from decent to below average overall. That is, for the most part, a fair microcosm of how I see the average M. Night Shyamalan film.
After The Visit, he directed Split, which was an above-average film, and Glass, which was a step-down, but I still enjoyed.
Like The Visit, Old was a film with a unique premise and was able to keep me modestly invested, in spite ultimately never reaching the potential I thought it had.
The reason I have broken all of this down is because it adequately describes my thoughts on M. Night Shyamalan.
Lately, M. Night Shyamalan rarely misses at all. However, he almost misses every time.
In Knock at the Cabin, a married couple and their adopted daughter are paid visit by four unexpected visitors claiming they are there to stop the end of the world.
That’s about all I want to tell you about it. This isn’t because underneath the surface of Knock at the Cabin is some deep, complex payoff you can’t afford to spoil for yourself, but I believe M. Night very much subscribes to the J.J. Abrams mystery box style of filmmaking, so to speak. Once you know what is inside of it, like a car off the lot, the film immediately loses a little bit of its value to you.
The cinematography is decent, if at times, a little jarring to watch, owed to some of the stylistic choices implanted, but, for the most part, is largely unnoteworthy. Nowadays, the cinematography in a M. Night film is straightforward – not that there is necessarily anything wrong with that. He is more high-concept and situational than stylistic, and in its own way, most M. Night films do feel distinctly like he did them.
The dialogue is a weak point. Often, M. Night movies have a habit of taking good actors and making them slum it – like with Old, which sees actors I’d seen in great films like Jo Jo Rabbit and Hereditary years prior, ham it up to admittedly hilarious effect. This film isn’t as blatant as that, but it remains an M. Night Shyamalan film. Dave Bautista steals the show in the film with a performance that shows he is currently, miles away, the best professional wrestler turned actor ever (as prestigious as that is). He comes off disarming and more than a little weird. There are other talented actors involved in this film as well, including Jonathan Groff from Mind Hunter fame, and they’re largely undeterred by him, however. Unfortunately, M. Night has never been the best at directing children or writing their dialogue, which I believe shows through in Cabin.
The story is the meat of Knock at the Cabin, and is, unfortunately, very humdrum and ordinary. Although it is a silly expression, the best way I can describe A Knock at the Cabin is to call it one great big nothing-burger of a film. The apocalyptic themes are been there, done that, and have little new to say at all. There simply isn’t much to this film. It unfolds, and that’s that. Everything plays out in the most paint-by-the-numbers way imaginable.
A Knock at the Cabin keeps itself from a negative critical rating on the basis that it doesn’t shoot very high at all. It’s an ordinary, plain film, and that might be worse than if it were a miss.