M. Night Shyamalan adapts for the silver screen the horror novel The Cabin at the End of the World by American writer Paul Tremblay. The Indian-American filmmaker, master of the contemporary supernatural, provides his own take on the original story through his Knock At The Cabin.
Andrew (Ben Aldridge), Eric (Jonathan Groff) and their adopted seven-year-old daughter Wen (Kristen Cui) spend a holiday in a secluded cabin in the woods. The young girl is approached by a mysterious man called Leonard (Dave Bautista), who anticipates he has an unexpected announcement to make to her fathers. She flees back home to alert her parents, but the man who frightened her arrives with other three people holding oddly-shaped weapons. Leonard’s companions are Redmond (Rupert Grint), Adriene (Nikki Amuka-Bird ), and Sabrina (Abby Quinn). They barge in the house and explain they have never met before and have no intention to harm the family. In the last week they have been seeing visions of an upcoming apocalypse. The only way to prevent it is for the family of three to sacrifice one of its members willingly. The spouses take this as an insane lie and feel they are being targeted by a group of homophobics. Each time the family refuses to comply to the absurd request, a bizarre ritual is carried out causing the death of each of the mysterious intruders.
As the predictions made by the strangers are reported on the news, the family of three — and the audience — wonder if the world-ending prophecy is real or not. The oceans rise, a new virus breaks out, planes fall and an unending darkness pervades our world. Just like Andrew, Eric and Wen, we diligently try to figure out if it is a well-crafted hoax or if these four people — like in the Book of Revelations in the New Testament — represent the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Once at a crossroads, between an earthly reality and a supernatural dimension, Knock At The Cabin eventually shows us the path to what is going on. The revelation doesn’t take by surprise and it becomes rather disappointing that there is no final plot twist.
The director who startled audiences in 1999 with The Sixth Sense — by tricking us into thinking that the protagonist that we believe to be alive is actually a ghost — fails expectations. Shyamalan changes the ending of the novel that won the Horror Writers Association’s Bram Stoker Award for Novel in 2019. His do-gooder choice makes the film far less thought-provoking than its inspirer.
Nevertheless the horror film is well shot and performed. The cinematography by Jarin Blaschke sets the beguiling mystery mood. It doesn’t surprise since his previous work on the psychological horror film genre earned him a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Cinematography. The actors are well cast. There is a tender chemistry between Ben Aldridge and Jonathan Groff who portray a consolidated and loving couple. The young Kristen Cui is brilliant in conveying the innocence of her age, with a touch of initial disenchantment that pertains to her day to day life before the family routine gets subverted. The herculean-sized Dave Bautista very effectively depicts the epitome of the gentle giant, whilst it is amusing to see the heroic Ron Weasley turned into a villain by the talented Rupert Grint. Also Nikki Amuka-Bird and Abby Quinn are brilliant in playing two different types of compassionate women, who must carry out a burdensome task.
On paper Shyamalan was the perfect filmmaker to adapt this story into film. All the elements of the narrative corresponded to fit his repertoire: the supernatural, the pressing sense of paranoia, the religious undertones, the isolated setting. Knock At The Cabin kicks off terrifically, also with some witty punch lines delivered by the character of Wen. But the film decides to take the easy route and preach audiences to act for the greater good, rather than showing how society most often hovers in nihilism.
Final Grade: C-