Knock at the Cabin (2023) Movie Review – M. Night Shyamalan Disappoints Yet Again
While vacationing at a remote cabin, a young girl and her two fathers are taken hostage by four armed strangers who demand that the family make an unthinkable choice to avert the apocalypse. With limited access to the outside world, the family must decide what they believe before all is lost.
Welcome to Knockout Horror and to our review of 2023’s Knock At The Cabin. You are going to have to bear with me for awhile here. We are in a serious horror lull at the moment so I am going back through the archives and checking out a few movies I have missed. That means my reviews are going to be a bit random for awhile. Many of these movies have a focus on summer and summery themes so I decided to put them into a mini-feature of sorts.
That brings us to today’s movie, Knock at the Cabin. This movie was released last year and focuses on a couple and their child being held captive at their summer cabin by a group of strange individuals. After a minor scuffle, the group tie them up and reveal why they are there. The world is about to end and the couple have to make a single decision to save the entirety of humankind. A decision that will also tear their family apart.
What Happened to M. Night Shyamalan?
Remember when M. Night Shyamalan’s name attached to a project prompted excitement from the movie going community? Shymalan’s twist endings and “not everything is quite as it seems” stories were flavour of the month for awhile there.
Coming hot off of the success of The Sixth Sense; he followed up with the fairly positively received Unbreakable and the pretty well regarded Signs. Only to push things a little with the divisive The Village. From there on out it was all downhill for awhile.
I suppose we should have seen The Village as a warning that Shymalan was getting a bit too big for his boots. It’s like he thought he could do no wrong but the convoluted and poorly fitting ending left people feeling hard done to. That was nothing compared to how shit shows like The Happening and After Earth would make them feel, however. That’s without mentioning the unwanted finger in the bum hole that Avatar: The Last Airbender was.
Still the Same Old Shit
From there it has been a real mixed bag. The Visit was okay though never really managed to stick the landing. Split was great fun but the sequel, Glass, was a bit of a let down. Old seemed to be Shymalan back to his old, bad movie, tricks and he has followed that up with more of the same in Knock at the Cabin. The best way to put it is that Shymalan is, simply, a bit overrated.
He has a knack for taking interesting stories and finding ways to make them boring or underwhelming. He seems to outthink himself constantly in an attempt to subvert the viewer’s expectations and has a knack for wrapping movies up in the least satisfying way possible. The best way to set your expectations when going into his movies is to prepare for bullshit and disappointment.
Knock at the Cabin is a bit of a strange movie. It represents Shymalan at his least adventurous. There’s no twists here, there’s no attempt to pull the rug out from under the viewer. There’s no trickery or hidden secrets. It’s just a very basic movie with some fairly decent tension and a “goes nowhere” plot.
The movie is based on the 2018 Paul Tremblay novel The Cabin at the End of the World. The problem is, Shymalan has exercised a certain degree of creative license while making this movie and changed the plot for the worse. Tremblay’s dark and ambiguous ending has been altered and much of what made the novel so captivating has been pushed to one side.
What we are left with is the movie equivalent of a back cover blurb for The Cabin at the End of the World. A short summary that misses most of the detail and nuance and replaces it with basic story telling and a Hollywood ending. There’s no chance to get invested in the characters, no opportunity to be surprised and no questions left to answer. This is a dishwater dull version of the story and a boring movie to boot.
Predictable and Slow
You will see literally everything coming here. Knock at the Cabin projects every single event and never once attempts to subvert the viewer’s expectations. While some may enjoy that element of the movie. The rest of us will probably find ourselves frequently yawning. Background information on the characters has been diluted to the point of non-existence. Interactions between the bad guys and good guys offers little in the way of exposition. And there is little reason to invest in what is happening here.
The truth of the matter is, there are a whole range of deep, complex, characters here to learn about and to understand but the viewer is never given the opportunity. Since the movie is depending on these characters to carry the story, that is a big problem. The entire story is condensed into a few, flashback, moments of saccharine familial bliss and a bunch of characters attempting to summarise their entire existence and complexity in 3 sentences. It is very disappointing.
On top of that, some of the more severe and impactful moments of the film are dragged down by poor acting and poor scene setup. The characters often refer to news reports that seemingly exist in a completely random, nonsensical, timeline and come across as unauthentic and unbelievable. It feels very amateur and something you would expect to see in a Tubi original horror movie.
Not All Bad
There are some positives here, however. The one that stands out the most is Dave Bautista. He is sensational and I would almost recommend checking out Knock at the Cabin purely for his performance. The strides he has made as an actor deserve massive praise. It’s easy to lump all of the former WWE wrestler actors together but Dave Bautista doesn’t deserve to be in that conversation. He is leaps and bounds better than all of the others.
The movie maintains a fairly decent level of tension for much of its length. The first 15 minutes or so are particularly tense and it is easy to invest in the early part of the story. Unfortunately, much of what happens is strongly projected making the movie completely predictable which robs from the tension frequently. Still, if you are fan of Hollywood horror then Knock at the Cabin does tick a lot of the boxes. It feels like it has fairly high production values and it never wanders too far off the beaten path.
Final Thoughts and Score
Knock at the Cabin isn’t necessarily a bad movie. It’s just a disappointing one. The novel features everything that the movie lacks. A decent ending, reasons to invest in the characters and a much darker tone. This is an incredibly safe movie that refuses to take risks and goes out of its way to not upset the viewer too much. It is a very “Hollywood” retelling of the story and represents Shymalan at his most tame and least interesting. Some will enjoy it, others will likely be disappointed.