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Let us not beat around the bush anymore, after a long stretch of some of the worst work of his career (we’re looking at you The Happening, After Earth and The Last Airbender), Knock At The Cabin verifies that the Shyamalan of old is indeed back, which after The Visit, Split, Glass and Old, there was already an argument for.
This tense horror/thriller, based on Paul G. Tremblay’s novel, sees couple Eric and Andrew (Jonathan Groff and Ben Aldridge respectively) and their daughter Wen (Kristen Cui) on a getaway at a swanky cabin in the woods, when a couple of strangers come calling, suggesting that the end of humanity is nigh, unless this family makes an impossible sacrifice.
Yes, this concept does have some looser fixtures if it is looked into with much scrutiny (and some of the gaps are not filled), especially as things get a bit crazier in idea and grander in scale, but Shyamalan once more reminds of just how good and confident a filmmaker he is, with this rather gripping film.
It is an unusual ride for sure (featuring Shyamalan’s funniest cameo to date) but not too much so. Aforementioned niggles notwithstanding, you do actually wait for Shyamalan (and fellow screenwriters Steve Desmond and Michael Sherman) to maybe go off the rails a bit with a turn of events that goes beyond the concept’s grasp but they never do, and actually Knock at the Cabin feels far more wisely contained and disciplined than some of the filmmaker’s last two decades of work.
The strength and conviction with which he delivers Tremblay’s novel, with his own touches, has you fully on board from the start and you never leave. The camerawork assists the story and themes as they progress, with some great storytelling subtleties at play here that make the suspenseful apocalyptic tale more resonant. The drama is tense, the violent moments effectively done and thus impactful, and the acting is especially memorable.
Ben Aldridge is particularly good as the defiant Andrew, who has been strengthened by life (and its prejudices), while his partner Eric, played strongly by Jonathan Groff, is a more soulful and less intense spirit, but the two together have a love, bond and family stronger than the links of a chain, which makes their potential ultimatum all the more unthinkable.
Meanwhile Nikki Amuka-Bird stands out among these strangers at the door (a clan that includes Rupert Grint and Abby Quinn) with an emotional turn. Though it is perhaps a wonderful Dave Bautista, as the kind of leader of the group Leonard, that impresses the most. Bautista shows just how right Rian Johnson (who worked with the former WWE megastar on the sublime Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery) might have been when he recently said Bautista is the best wrestler-turned-actor yet.
I really enjoyed Knock At The Cabin. It was engaging, impressively not overdone, and well acted, and is a further verification of this director’s comeback. In fact, Shyamalan’s return to form of late has been so gratifying to see and I can safely say I look forward to his next twisty cinematic offering.