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MOVIES: Knock at the Cabin - Review

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Knock the Cabin is M. Night Shyamalan’s latest horror/thriller - decidedly more in thriller territory this time out - on the back of his memorable Old that aired around the same time last year, and Glass in 2019 before that – the concluding chapter in his Eastrail 177 Trilogy; a truly grounded superhero fable. Here, Knock at the Cabin adopts another grounded take to an end of the world apocalyptic scenario: four strangers force their way into a cabin in the middle of nowhere that plays host to a married couple and their adopted daughter – and give them an ultimatum: one of them must die at the hands of the other, or the world will end.

There’s no grand big twist in Knock at the Cabin on a scale that Shyamalan is used to at least; the film feels relatively constrained and low key, taking place almost entirely in the Cabin itself save for several flashbacks that establish the nature of the relationship between our two protagonists, Eric and Andrew, played by Ben Aldridge and Jonathan Groff. The oddest thing about these four home invaders to them is that it’s not a typical invasion – they’re polite, and after one gives Eric a concussion by mistake; they offer to patch it up – they’re here to narrate stories about themselves to explain why they came to the cabin and what they want to do. Shyamalan is the master at creating sense of doubt by having you be on the side of the protagonists and the tension is there from the get go, a mystery box created that unfolds before you like the skills of a master – remember at one point; Shyamalan was tipped to be the next Spielberg – and the result is something akin to Spielberg’s own – a daring thriller that plays with the concept of fear, mistrust but above all: humanity.

There’s always been a touch of humanity in Shyamalan’s films regardless of how many people are killed and Knock at the Cabin may be his most empathetic yet – the characters’ bonds for each other and their belief in humanity is key to making Knock at the Cabin work, he doesn’t much care for the reasons as to why they’re in this situation but instead what they do when they get there – and who they are; there’s a long scene where we see the histories of the four told to us by them in turn, but chief among them all the performances of Dave Bautista and Rupert Grint standout – Bautista as an against-type teacher deliberately played against type to create a force of panic in the leads using his reputation as an actor for ‘heavy’ roles against you – he’s so far removed from his reputation as a wrestler now he’s a bonafide movie star and arguably, the best of the bunch to come out of WWE. Grint is a delight in his brief scenes – there’s real emotion there, and you’ll wonder where he’s been all along since Potter. Kristen Cui, who plays the daughter of Andrew and Eric – is the emotional, beating heart of the whole thing – and it’s through her that the film demonstrates empathy that is crucial to its success – it could have opted for a meaner, nihilistic turn – and there are points where it threatens to do so, but Knock at the Cabin manages to avoid that; or as best it can given the circumstances.

The camerawork from Shyamalan as usual is a delight creating a sense of awkward close ups, sure to be ripped out of context and mocked the second the film drops on VOD; but are only doubly effective in the film at creating a sense of tension. The dolly camera usage heightens the suspense too – everything here is amazingly well crafted to keep you on edge as the film goes forward. Everything is staged to cinematic delight here; a reconstruction of the house in a way that separates it from say the louder theatrical pieces of Rope or other one-setting location pieces like The Whale. This is pure cinema – contained camerawork; in a way that’s moving and gentle in its creation of extensional dread and fear – nimble and efficient with Paul Tremblay’s novel as its guiding hand. Get through its clunky expositional set-up and embrace the self-awareness of the clever M. Night Shyamalan cameo and you’ll be in for an experience of a lifetime.

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