If the horror genre has taught us anything it’s that cabins are never going to be the cosy, safe getaway that each inhabiting character tends to think it will be. But even in the realms of the horror genre, Knock at the Cabin, the latest from genre auteur M. Night Shyamalan, has a few tricks up its sleeve that speaks to something more philosophical and, ultimately, more terrifying.
A lean mentality with no unnecessary fat to speak of, Shyamalan’s one-location chiller – an adaptation of Paul G. Tremblay‘s acclaimed novel “Cabin at the End of the World” – gives us only mere minutes of calm when it introduces us to young Wen (Kristen Cui) and her should-be-peaceful activity of catching bugs.
Hulking in the background, but approaching her with an uneasy steadiness, Leonard (Dave Bautista, brilliant) walks into her peripheral, assuring her he wants to be her friend. There’s a variety of strands that this interaction could take, all mostly sinister, but the ultimate reasoning for Leonard and his eventual trio of “co-workers” – Sabrina (Nikki Amuka-Bird), Adriane (Abby Quinn) and Redmond (Rupert Grint) – for intruding on Wen and her two dads, Eric (Jonathan Groff) and Andrew (Ben Aldridge, making one hell of an impression) is a violently laced confrontation that’s bathed in odd reasoning.
Wielding weapons worthy of fear, the intruding quartet calmly explain they hope to not have to use them, and whilst it’s understandable that Eric and Andrew assume they are there to be utilised as torture devices, the ultimatum presented is far more devastating; sacrifice one of your own to save the world. It must be a willing sacrifice (those are the rules of the apocalypse, apparently), and if not, the world will perish but the three of them will live to roam a scorched Earth for eternity.
For such a premise, it’s surprising that Shyamalan rarely allows the time for audiences to digest what’s taking place. We are hit with this choice quite early on, and we are processing it at the same time Eric and Andrew are; the film wisely dividing up the tension within the cabin with select flashbacks of the couple informing their dynamic as a couple, the adoption of their daughter, and certain trauma that speaks to their individual responses when presented with Leonard and his band of doomsday believers.
Shyamalan is synonymous with the narrative “twist”, and whilst this compulsion has ebbed and flowed over the course of his career, it’s interesting within the realms of something like Knock at the Cabin. If you’ve read Tremblay’s novel the film follows a different suit, and if you’re going into this fresh you’ll no doubt be questioning the situation and motives on hand. Where they end up or, more correctly, how you feel about the action will depend entirely on how much you bank your investment (or enjoyment) on having the rug pulled out from under you.
A film that’s left best to be uncovered by eager eyes, the less known about Knock at the Cabin, the better. It’s a disturbing sound though that you’ll be glad to answer, whether it be because the inclusion of a queer couple at the centre of the film is treated with welcome, refreshing normality, or that in spite of his intimidating frame, Bautista, offsetting such with a gentle vocal delivery, is magnetic as Leonard. Equally terrifying as he is tender, Knock… provides him further opportunity to shed any preconceived notions as to what he should be as an actor and embrace the character performer temperament he clearly desires to revel in.
Shot with a tight, almost claustrophobic lens at times, and indulging its genre thrills with a simplicity that proves less is often more when it comes to theatrical distraction, Knock at the Cabin grabs you in a vice-like grip and won’t let go. But, unlike Eric and Andrew, you’ll enjoy the squeeze Shyamalan and Bautista have on you.
FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Knock at the Cabin is now screening in Australian theatres.