By Josh Reilly B. & George Bate
M. Night Shyamalan has been one of the most recognizable names working film and television industry over the last three decades. He was only 29 years old when he had his first big hit, 1999’s The Sixth Sense, a film that earned Shyamalan Academy Awards nominations in the Best Director and Best Original Screenplay categories.
Because of the success of Shyamalan’s initial run of films – The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signs, and The Village – the writer/director has always drawn crowds to the multiplex, even when he had a string of poorly reviewed films by his admittedly high standards. Now, Shyamalan appears to have overcome any sophomore slump, continuing his impressive streak with films like The Visit, Split, Glass, and Old with his latest project – Knock at the Cabin.
Knock at the Cabin sees Dave Bautista in yet another mammoth role, playing Leonard, an eery and off-putting man who comes to a family’s vacation home with a moral question; choose one of your three family members to die in order to prevent the apocalypse. The premise is simple enough, and it’s based off of a book titled ‘The Cabin at the End of the World.’ Jonathan Groff and Ben Aldridge star as the couple at the heart of this existential, ethical dilemma, and the two share a young daughter stuck in the middle of everything.
The ultimate strength of Knock at the Cabin is Shyamalan’s masterful direction. He brings the hallmark intensity that audiences have become accustomed to with his projects, which greatly adds to a tense and unnerving atmosphere of the film that never relents. Shyamalan opted once again for an up close and personal approach for many of the most crucial scenes, where the camera centers and directly focuses on extreme close ups of the characters with virtually nothing else in the frame. Some criticized this approach in one of Shyamalan’s more recent films, Glass, but it works well here as it serves a broader purpose; that is, to amplify the intensity and make the audience feel the same sort of intimate pressure as Groff and Aldridge’s characters experience once their idyllic wooded vacation is invaded.
Completing the directing is a tightly written, suspenseful script, notably free of much of the stiff dialogue that Shyamalan has been criticized for in the past. An extreme example of that issue is in The Happening, in which it seems almost every line has been turned into a meme or joke. In Knock at the Cabin, everything comes off as refreshingly natural, particularly the depiction of the family dynamic. The characters’ relationships and their love for each other is genuinely believable, which only makes the decision being forced upon them to be even harder.
In terms of performances, though, Dave Bautista goes above and beyond in this film. The wrestler-turned-actor has proved for years that he is so much more than others who fleetingly made a similar career switch, and his turn in Knock at the Cabin solidifies this much. Even as Leonard is sprouting about the potential apocalypse, Bautista’s character remains logical and honest in a way that is unique for a villain, if he can be described as such.
That Leonard’s villainy is in question is down to the events that transpire as the film goes on, particularly as the family initially, and naturally, resists to the calls to sacrifice one of their own. That, of course, plays into the ending and overall conclusion of the proceedings. Without too many spoilers, Knock at the Cabin can perhaps be considered subversive by Shyamalan’s standards as it doesn’t feature the core twist in the third act, something the director became known for after the revelations at the end of The Sixth Sense. Ultimately, Knock at the Cabin succeeds without that, concluding as a tight, thoughtful, and satisfying thriller tale.
M. Night Shyamalan proves that he has most certainly overcome the sophomore slump during the middle of his career with his new film Knock at the Cabin. Dave Bautista excels in a starring role and continues to prove that he’s one of the best actors working today. Shyamalan’s work is another highlight here, simultaneously building intensity and character depth in a film that stands apart from many of the director’s other outings, such is the uniqueness of the some of the decisions made throughout.