This article contains minor spoilers for “Knock at the Cabin.”
Horror and thriller movies often get an unfairly bad rap for characters making terrible decisions or a totally unbelievable story. Sometimes that’s true, but more often than not it doesn’t match the many great scary movies out there.
“Knock at the Cabin,” however, works hard to make that complaint as true as it gets — and throughout its 100-minute running time.
It would be hyperbolic to suggest that the film’s director and co-writer, M. Night Shyamalan, as beloved and successful as he sounds, is the main culprit in keeping horror more maligned than ever. But let’s just say it didn’t do much to prove the point wrong.
For evidence, see “Old”, “Glass”, “Split”, “The Happening”, “Lady in the Water”, “The Village” or “Unbreakable”. He has a resume.
Like all of Shyamalan’s films, the tension in Knock at the Cabin, co-written by Steve Desmond and Michael Sherman (and adapted from Paul Tremblay’s novel The Cabin at the End of the World), begins with its timid, interesting premise, although very familiar. A few unknown bullies (led by Dave Bautista’s gun-toting teacher) darken the doorstep of a happy family trying in vain to enjoy the holidays.
A question already comes to mind here: Do people still vacation in the woods despite countless horror movies – like, er, “Cabin in the Woods” – that don’t actually make it look good?
After falling in love with the happy family’s adorable daughter, Wen (Kristen Cui), while helping her pick some grasshoppers outside, Leonard (Bautista), we quickly learn, has a seemingly sinister ulterior motive.
He wants to be allowed into the cabin he lives in with his dads (Ben Aldridge and Jonathan Groff) so he and three other scary people (Nikki Amuka-Bird, Abby Quinn and Rupert Grint) can get one. he sacrifices his life to save the world.
But wait, Leonard and his crew’s attempt to convince these innocent fathers is to break into their home with old-fashioned guns (something similar to what you see in any Edgar Allan Poe film adaptation) and brutalize them. They are good people with good intentions, I promise. They do not Want to hurt them.
So why not talk reason with this family so they don’t respond with the same brute force they do out of justified fear? How could the intruders be surprised that this family preferred to stay alive?
And why would the criminals start killing each other when their captives won’t comply with their absurd demand? Why would someone who says they are trying to save humanity resort to murder? This is the opposite of all salvation.
This is never explained, and if there’s some kind of allegory about violence that’s supposed to happen in “Knock at the Cabin,” the film and its story certainly aren’t clever enough to pull it off.
Are these people part of a cult or just your murderous maniacs, like in the superior horror The Aliens?
Leonard’s group must be at least a little crazy to think they’re living in an apocalypse, when the only evidence they provide are TV news reports of a plague, unexplained plane crashes, and tsunamis, all unfortunate things that already existed in this sad . world.
Of course, Andrew and Eric (Aldridge and Groff, respectively) suspect this and just want to get rid of them.
So the invaders have a hard time getting any of their hostages to leave. Probably because everything seems less urgent when you’re strapped to a chair with your partner while four psychopaths scream and threaten you.
Shyamalan and his cohorts are trying to trick the audience into thinking we’re witnessing a horror invasion with a bunch of madmen, when the twist—no spoilers, but it’s Shyamalan, so you know there’s one—is much more…biblical?
Honestly, “Knock at the Cabin” would have been better as a soulless invasion offering.
Despite Jordan Peele’s No. its many flaws, at least did a more interesting job of constructing, marginally speaking, images and themes of a spiritual nature, albeit without follow through. “Knock at the Cabin” leads both the audience and its protagonists to believe that humanity has a higher purpose and that violence is the way to achieve it.
Now, I don’t know much about the Book of Revelation, but I’m pretty well versed in what makes sense. I have to ask the same question here that Andrew and Eric repeatedly ask: why them?
This is actually answered in the movie, but it’s so crazy that you really start to wonder if there’s anyone else in the world that Shyamalan, Desmond and Sherman have created here. Because this family is just your average people who made a big mistake by leaving town for a breath of fresh air at this particular time.
However, the filmmakers try to make up for that lackluster response by leaning into the fundamental horrors of queer existence through the couple’s flashbacks: a homophobic attack in a bar, their biased parents, and biased barriers in the adoption process. And off topic as always and a maddeningly undeniable revelation, Andrew had a temper problem.
All of these scenes seem to come from completely unrelated movies. They don’t inform the current story, and when accusations of bigotry creep into the current narrative, it sounds totally out of place. Despite what they actually said, the intruders ultimately sacrifice themselves, they don’t target this family.
The pair’s backstory felt like an over-the-top way to make the audience empathize with the characters, when the fact that they’re just going about their business when their personal space is invaded already does the trick very well. Of course we support them.
That is until Andrew and Eric start behaving in ways that don’t match any real human response, out of nowhere. “Knock at the Cabin” supports neither the believers (the criminals) nor the ostensibly supposed believers (Wen, Andrew and Eric – and/or perhaps the audience?).
So the idea that all non-believers like these protagonists would have converted by the end of the film through sheer intimidation and no real challenge is infuriating. Their most imminent danger is in human form and weakening by the minute.
“Knock at the Cabin” doesn’t give Andrew and Eric’s story any realistic trajectory, instead raising unanswered questions about the couple’s actual relationship to violence and even to each other.
What exactly are these 100 minutes? from? In the end, who the criminals are becomes tiresomely less critical. Which is No one in this movie? In the end, no one behaves relatably, which dulls the story and defeats whatever tension there once was. And with that, whatever point the movie was trying to make.