Review – Knock at the Cabin

I imagine you have your own opinion on M. Night Shyamalan, and that it’s not easily swayed. That’s fine, I understand. But for me, before we go any further, I owe my love of cinema to him. Watching Signs as a 10 year old made me think about film in a way I had never thought possible before, and through the peaks and valleys of his career he has always had a soft spot in my heart. If you’re looking for a review that’s eager to hate on him, I’m not the one. I’m a grown person, not a child. I have really liked this latest phase of his career from The Visit on, where he’s free from the expectations of being the next greatest director and is instead free to just be the craftsman and storyteller he is. If you’re still shutting yourself off from his work, you’re missing out on some remarkably interesting work from him as one of the last few filmmakers working at the studio level unafraid to take big swings. Knock at the Cabin is perhaps his most ambitiously and intimately made work thus far, and certainly his most impressive looking film.

Adapted from Paul Tremblay’s terrific novel “The Cabin at the End of the World”, Shyamalan’s Knock at the Cabin finds husbands Eric (Jonathan Groff) and Andrew (Ben Aldridge) on vacation with their daughter Wen (Kristen Cui) at a remote beach house by a lake. Suddenly, four strangers led by the gigantic Leonard (Dave Bautista) show up at their door, force their way in and force their family to make an impossible choice: sacrifice and kill a member of your family or the world will end.

The entire cast is excellent, you can’t go wrong with this crop of talent. Each member brings an immediacy and vulnerability to the story in their own way. Jonathan Groff and Ben Aldridge really make you feel the love their characters have for each other and their daughter. Kristen Cui is really good for her age, Shyamalan has always directed children well and she really brings Wen to life with all her little ticks and curiosity. Dave Bautista is remarkable in this film. I’ve always been a fan of his, I’ll watch anything he does. He’s perfect casting as Leonard. When I was reading the novel, I was reading it with him in mind and it was clear he was the right choice. He’s a hulking presence with a soft voice and a still demeanor. There is warmth and fear all wrapped up in how he delivers his lines, however threatening and dooming. He’s just transfixing here. It’s going to be one of my favorite performances this year. By this point it should be clear to all he’s a really good actor, not just a wrestler who can act. 

Jarin Blaschke (one of the finest working cinematographers) and Lowell A. Meyer share the cinematography duty, and mesh well together. I’d be curious to know who shot what here, because it looks like it’s all shot by the same person. Knock at the Cabin features some of the nuttiest, most exhilarating camera work and shot composition of Shyamalan’s career. There’s so many delicious shots in this thing. Shyamalan has been consistently wringing out inventive ways to shoot one location for 4 seasons now on Servant, and takes much of what he learned there to make Knock at the Cabin feel constantly fresh and new throughout. Shyamalan is a filmmaker who loves to let his camera dictate the storytelling and the pacing rather than traditional exposition. The closeups in this thing are extreme and gripping. The way he’ll rack focus or let the camera trail over to another character while somebody else is talking…good stuff. There’s one part where a character is getting treated like a punching bag and you see it from their point of view. It’s just exciting shotmaking from Shyamalan all the way through. 

I will say, I kind of wish I hadn’t read the book before seeing this though. It’s an amazing novel, you should read it if you get the chance. But my regret comes from knowing what deviations Shyamalan makes away from the novel, and particularly certain things that make the novel so impactful. I don’t want this to sound more negative than it should, I still think this is a really good movie. I just think Tremblay had more interesting ideas within the text than Shyamalan did. The core question of the work is still there: at the end of everything, do you choose fear or love? Or in Shyamalan’s case, at the end of everything, which of those emotions – fear or love – do you make your decisions out of? 

A tweet by Super Yaki pointed out “This isn’t a particularly hot or new take but that scene in SIGNS where Joaquin Phoenix is getting grilled for having the minor league strikeout record and responding with “felt wrong not to swing” is an encapsulation of why I enjoy M. Night’s original stuff so much.” I have to agree. I’ve always loved that he takes big swings. I wish more films and filmmakers would do the same. It’s becoming a scarcer quality. Never stop swinging, Shyamalan.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s