If you believe his critics, M. Night Shyamalan jumped the shark a while ago. Breaking out with The Sixth Sense in 1999, before Signs and Unbreakable cemented his reputation, the master of suspense has since struggled to recapture the magic of his early thrillers. Sci-fi After Earth was dull, superhero flick Glass underwhelmed, and last year’s beach-set head-scrambler Old just didn’t make any sense. By taking things back to basics and confining the cast to one room in Knock At The Cabin, Shyamalan hopes to add another twist to his cinematic tale.
Set entirely at a remote, lakeside holiday home, Knock At The Cabin makes for a nerve-jangling return to form. We first meet Wen (Kristen Cui), a young girl foraging for crickets on the front porch. Then, out of the forest gloom emerges Leonard, a bespectacled, musclebound bruiser played by Dave Bautista. Friendly at first, Leonard soon warns of a coming apocalypse that only Wen and her dads (Jonathan Groff, Ben Aldridge), who are relaxing out back and unwisely leaving a small child alone in some creepy woods, are able to prevent. Terrible parenting, yes, but Eric and Andrew can do little to stop what happens next. Joined by three heavily-armed cronies, Leonard holds them hostage while demanding that they choose to end the life of one of their family. If they don’t, he’s foreseen that humanity will be wiped out via CGI tsunamis, devastating earthquakes and (this one’s a bit on the nose) deadly disease.
Billed as a pants-filling psych-horror, Knock At The Cabin actually lands somewhere between biblical disaster blockbuster and the kind of tense slow-burn Shyamalan made his name with. There are plenty of (often bloody) scares, but the dread comes from watching Eric and Andrew waste time arguing, the planet slipping nearer to oblivion with every second. The performances are top-notch too – from Bautista’s crackpot basketball coach Leonard to Rupert Grint’s surprisingly spine-chilling cameo as Redmond, the nastiest of the cult kidnappers. Groff and Aldridge are convincing enough to make the stakes believably high – and as is usual with Shyamalan, there’s a soft-centered message about family though it never feels hokey.
Recently, Shyamalan’s films have tended to unravel the longer they go on, the director’s lofty ambitions lacking sufficient execution. Knock At The Cabin doesn’t disintegrate too much, but even with a sprightly 100-minute runtime some problems emerge. As everything builds to a frenzied finish, characters start to make decisions that don’t quite add up – and there’s an air of box-ticking that serves simply to get us from point a to point b so that the next thing can happen. The supernatural elements become more important too, and you’ll have to make a decision to go with it or not. Those that do will be rewarded. There’s no big twist to speak of, but this is a white-knuckle thrill ride that’s up there with Shyamalan’s most gripping work.
- Director: M. Night Shyamalan
- Starring: Dave Bautista, Jonathan Groff, Rupert Grint
- Release date: February 3 (in cinemas)