Say what you want about M. Night Shyamalan but he knows how to pick a good concept even if he does fumble the bag with the ending most times. It’s refreshing to see a director maintain his style of filmmaking and storytelling throughout all these years especially when he’s a relatively newer face in the business. From the most unconventional superhero trilogy with ‘Unbreakable’, ‘Split’ and ‘Glass‘ which was some of the best use of the genre in ages to his uniquely horrifying visions, Shyamalan just knows how to pick a story. That being said, there are times when the concept itself is stronger and way more horrifying than what the actual film delivers. This is the case with a few of his films, namely ‘Split’, ‘Old’ and unfortunately ‘Knock at the Cabin’. The trailers ultimately do a better job of conveying the concept because funnily enough, they don’t have an ending whereas Shyamalan has to come up with one and more often than not, they’re not particularly satisfying.
major spoilers for ‘Knock at the Cabin’ are featured in this review.
Despite having his trademark twists, the ending of ‘Knock at the Cabin’ doesn’t leave much room for surprises and it’s one of two potential endings, both cruel and unjust. The story here demands to be questioned and makes the audience go back and forth but in reality, Shyamalan’s approach is intensely direct. The marketing campaign, particularly the trailers show these disasters happening so automatically you go in believing the visitors. Even so, in the movie itself, Shyamalan doesn’t really do much to convince us that it could possibly be a delusion. We as an audience are seeing this from the family’s point of view but the movie doesn’t side with anyone. The family is understandably drowning in fear and denial so shutting down every sentence the visitors say doesn’t really convince the audience that this could all be false. To be fair, the movie doesn’t really side with the visitors either as we rarely get to see their perspectives on the matter. Shyamalan makes the wise decision to never go into the outside world and tell us whether or not the visitors are telling the truth, the TV is all we have as proof. It doesn’t directly tell you what is real and what is not but it heavily implies that the apocalypse is real and that the visitors are telling the truth so the mystery element is really diluted once the visitors start sacrificing one another. There is an urgency that is always present and yet once the visitors explain the rules, the tension subsides fairly quickly. The execution of their prophecy is flawed and questionable. There is a lot to explore there with these characters and the movie just barely touches the surface with them.
Sitting at a nice hour and a half, it is admittedly an easier watch but it does leave something to be desired. When there is no explanation as to why things are happening the way they are happening and they just force us to accept it, the movie feels like it’s rushing as to not lose our attention. It’s set in one location with a premise that is predictable in its progression. To the movie’s credit, the action starts relatively quickly and the tension up till Redmond’s death was quite effective. Unfortunately, Shyamalan fails at really conveying a sense of danger after that. It starts to follow a formula which is again, very straightforward and direct. The movie could’ve used a couple more minutes to flesh out the visitors, explain their perspective and perhaps even side with them in the sense that Shyamalan could’ve outright just held on to Redmond’s death to make us question and then properly confirm that they’re right after. We could’ve gotten an inside look into the “voices” they kept hearing and the visions they kept seeing. It would make us feel all the more sorry for them because, at the end of the day, there are no villains in this story and the movie doesn’t really delve into that. In fact, I truly wasn’t a fan of how inconsequential every death felt. The ending in particular really didn’t sit right with me if I’m being honest.
If there is one thing I truly did not expect from ‘Knock at the Cabin’ it’s how heavily it leans into the fact that our protagonists Eric and Andrew are gay. I was genuinely appreciating the fact that a mainstream thriller features two gay leads. I did not however expect the fact that them being gay, factors into the story and especially the ending. I even laughed at the joke they made about the visitors not having a homophobic bone in their bodies. It did feel awfully questionable and even unfair to see the fate of the entire world depend on the sacrifice of a same-sex couple. There is something to be said about the first mainstream thriller to feature gay leads only to put them through hell and force them to wreck their happiness in order to save others. It felt all the more questionable considering how religion and faith factor into the story as well. I don’t really know what the movie was trying to say there at the end. It’s even more of a head scratch when you realize that every flashback the movie shows is detailing an aspect of homophobia. Unaccepting parents, homophobic laws in certain countries, homophobic attacks and assaults. Seeing this movie try and convince us that the world is deserving of this sacrifice and justify it because their love is so pure, felt off to me. Fuck that, honestly.
In the book on which this movie is based, the ending is quite different. After Wen gets shot accidentally and dies, Eric and Andrew decide that no world is worth saving if their God doesn’t accept that their daughter’s death isn’t a worthy sacrifice. It’s much different than the movie’s ending and even then it still feels cruel but at least the book sticks to it, it doesn’t try to make us see the light in this situation. I honestly cannot imagine that ending playing out in the movie. What would straight audiences think if Eric and Andrew actually let the world end? I can already see the headlines. Forcing this gay couple into a corner where no matter what happens, their lives are forever changed, it’s awful, it was truly awful. The movie tries so hard to get us to see that this sacrifice is necessary which was truly baffling to me. Even if the movie insisted on this ending, it still went about it in the worst way possible. Shyamalan doesn’t show us the grief and devastation that Andrew should be feeling after having killed the love of his life. We as an audience don’t even get to grieve Eric because the movie never takes its time to develop these characters. The movie plays it like an ending of relief, that the world is now saved and that other people get to return to their loved ones and yet they don’t show the devastating consequences this has for Andrew and Wen. The scene at the end in the diner was cringeworthy because there is no way in hell that Andrew would feel anything remotely positive seeing everyone call their loved ones. It’s devastating not hopeful or beautiful but the movie doesn’t understand that. It’s just very icky to me. There is no ending to this story in which the outcome wouldn’t be cruel. Again, I ask, why is it that one of the few times a mainstream thriller features gay leads, they have to suffer?
Overall, while having quite a nasty ending, it’s not one of Shyamalans’ worst efforts. I thoroughly enjoyed the cinematic presentation here. The framing and camera work was very effective and refreshing. The cast is truly fantastic here. Jonathan Groff is great as always but the true standouts to me were Dave Bautista who was excellent and Ben Aldridge who was fantastic as well. It’s a very tight movie, decently paced and very entertaining throughout. It’s a fun watch even if it is not particularly living up to its potential or fully realizing the depth of its story and focusing on what it’s trying to say. It’s not his best but not his worst either. I also don’t believe that Shyamalan was ever coming from a bigoted place and I trust that the movie is definitely not ill-intentioned however it still doesn’t change the fact that ‘Knock at the Cabin’ is absurdly confused about what exactly it is that it’s trying to say.
‘Knock at the Cabin’ is now on digital.
This review in The Guardian is an excellent piece that further corroborates my feelings towards the film.