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Review: ‘Knock at the Cabin’ is an M. Night Shyamalan Thriller that’s Light on Twists but Heavy on Dread

February 3, 2023Ben MK

What if you were asked to make a life-changing decision based purely on the words of others? And what if it wasn't just the lives of you and your family at stake, but the life of every single human being on the planet? That's the simple but thematically rich premise behind Knock at the Cabin, the latest from M. Night Shyamalan, which tells the tale of a same-sex couple and their adopted daughter who find themselves faced with precisely that scenario, as they're forced to make an impossible sacrifice while being held captive in an isolated cabin in the woods by four complete strangers.

The film follows soon-to-be-eight-year-old Wen (Kristen Cui), and her adoptive parents, Eric (Jonathan Groff) and Andrew (Ben Aldridge), who've left behind their home in the big city for a few days of rest and relaxation off the grid. It's not long before their rustic vacation getaway is interrupted in the most disturbing of ways, though, when a group of apparent home invaders show up their doorstep demanding to be let in. Led by the burly but soft-spoken Leonard (Dave Bautista), a second-grade teacher who claims to have had visions of the apocalypse, this foursome — which also includes an ex-con named Redmond (Rupert Grint), nurse Sabrina (Nikki Amuka-Bird) and line cook Adriane (Abby Quinn) — present Eric and Andrew with an unfathomable proposal: choose one person from their family of three to die, and in exchange, the rest of the world will live. Should they refuse to offer up this blood sacrifice, however, then they would be responsible for bringing about the end of all humanity.

Not surprisingly, Eric and Andrew are completely unconvinced by Leonard and his associates' reason for taking them hostage — at least initially. But as the hours pass and they're forced to watch their captors demonstrate their unwavering belief in this doomsday prophecy while bearing witness to television news reports of shocking and devastating events unfolding around the globe, the pair soon begin to realize that there might be more to their story than just the ravings of a bunch of lunatics. Could their tall tale actually be rooted in the truth? And will Eric and Andrew still choose to save their family versus saving the lives of everyone else on Earth?

Aside from the obligatory cameo from Shyamalan himself, what follows is unlike anything the 52-year-old filmmaker has ever made. Suffice to say, viewers who go into Knock at the Cabin expecting the usual third-act twist may be woefully disappointed, as the movie all but eschews The Sixth Sense director's usual bag of tricks in favor of something decidedly more straightforward, with Bautista, Groff and Aldridge shouldering the majority of the story's dramatic weight. Whether it's the flashbacks that flesh out Eric and Andrew's relationship and their respective emotional traumas or Leonard's various monologues about how they were all chosen to help prevent the apocalypse, Shyamalan and co-screenwriters Steve Desmond and Michael Sherman do a commendable job adapting author Paul Tremblay's bestselling novel, The Cabin at the End of the World, for the big screen.

In the end, however, just how much audiences connect with the result will depend on how much they're willing to invest in the story's underlying themes of faith and spirituality. Needless to say, these are the factors that will ultimately determine whether Knock at the Cabin is worth watching. But if you're looking for a thriller in the vein of Split, The Visit or Signs, then you might want to think twice about answering the door.

Knock at the Cabin releases February 3rd, 2023 from Universal Pictures. The film has an MPAA rating of R for violence and language. Its runtime is 1 hr. 40 min.

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