Saturday, February 4, 2023

Knock at the Cabin: A Review



It's the end of the world as we know it, but no one feels fine. Knock at the Cabin takes a good premise and keeps it mostly grounded.

Wen (Kristen Cui) is collecting grasshoppers when a large man comes upon her. Leonard (Dave Bautista) is a soft-spoken but massively built man who tells her that he has an important mission that involves her and her two adoptive father, Eric (Jonathan Groff) and his partner Andrew (Ben Aldridge). Terrified, she rushes to the cabin where they are staying, begging them to hide. However, the cabin by now is besieged by Leonard and three others, one man and two women. 

They take Eric (who got a concussion during the struggle) and Andrew prisoner. However, Leonard informs them that they will not kill them. Instead, Leonard along with his cohorts Sabrina (Nikki-Amuka Bird), Adriane (Abby Quinn) and Redmond (Rupert Grint) are there to prevent the apocalypse. Each of them has had visions of death and disaster, leading to the death of all humanity. The only way to save the world is for Eric and Andrew to kill someone in their family as a sacrifice. It cannot be a suicide and the home invaders cannot choose or kill one of them themselves. 

Andrew, the more rational and belligerent of the two, rejects the entire premise and is convinced this is a hate crime. Eric too refuses to make a choice, though he is less confrontational. Their refusal to choose leads the members to, one by one, sacrifice themselves instead, declaring that a part of humanity has been judged. After the first ritualized death, Leonard puts on the television where Andrew and Eric can see the news reports verifying the oncoming wrath.

Over the two days of the siege, Andrew and Eric do what they can to save themselves and Wen, while the surviving home invaders keep working to convince them that they are not crazy. As this battle continues, death comes all around them. Will Eric, Andrew and Wen live, and better yet, will humanity survive?

Based on The Cabin at the End of the World, Knock at the Cabin keeps things simple in terms of plot. We start almost in media res and end when the plot has a resolution. The film has a simplicity and directness that I found effective.

That is not to say that Michael Sherman, Steve Desmond and director M. Night Shyamalan do not stumble during the film. In between the siege at the cabin, Knock at the Cabin has flashbacks to Eric and Andrew's relationship. We get flashbacks to when Eric's parents meet his partner, their deception in adopting Wen from China, and a drunken attack that may or may not be related to the events they are enduring. 

These flashbacks interrupt the flow of Knock at the Cabin and apart from one do not seem to relate to the events of the film. Moreover, the one flashback that does appear to tie one of the cult members to Andrew and Eric appears more coincidental than intentional. Apart from this flashback, the others seem there to lengthen the film, which is rather short at 100 minutes. 

As I said, the premise is quite interesting and the film, to its credit, does not slip into farce or deliver some kind of major twist. However, I think what pushes Knock at the Cabin down is due to style. Shyamalan has a very deliberately grand visual style that calls out its artifice. From its intense closeups to the almost comically ritualistic mannerisms, the film's overall look is at conflict with its straightforward story.

There are various shots that blatantly call attention to themselves. Of particular note is when Leonard is repeating the report shown on television, with him a few seconds ahead of the broadcast. Leaving aside whether his accuracy is the result of his visions (as he attests) or it being prerecorded, (as Andrew insists), the overall look is so dramatic it is done only to be noticed. I was not won over by this style.

The performances were quiet with one exception. Rupert Grint was so over-the-top as Redmond as to be almost parody. It is as if he opted to go big when everyone else was going small. It also brings up a point for me at least in terms of casting. I kept thinking what Knock at the Cabin would have been like if Grint and Bautista had switched roles.

Perhaps screentime was a reason behind the decision to cast Bautista and Grint in their respective roles. However, I could not help thinking that a second-grade teacher would not be so heavily tattooed. Then again, teachers nowadays look far different from when I went to school, so perhaps I am wrong. 

I was surprised that despite the R rating, Knock at the Cabin is surprisingly devoid of much on-camera violence. There is violence in the film, but some of the killings are nowhere near as graphic as they could have been. Moreover, and to the film's credit, everyone on camera and behind it worked hard to have the child not see or participate in the violence. 

I give credit to Bautista for attempting something different in his quiet, almost meek Leonard. While not convincing me that he is a genuine actor, I acknowledge that he is making the effort to show more range. Bird and Quinn too did well, though not great, as the fretful nurse and almost every-woman Adriane. Groff and Aldridge, both openly gay, were also good in their roles. The more conciliatory Eric balances the angrier, more cynical Andrew. 

I mention that they are both openly gay because here they play openly gay characters. I am not convinced that openly gay actors should be the only actors to play openly gay roles (would that not prevent them from playing straight roles and pigeonhole them). It also brings to mind whether or not the metaphorical if not literal Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse targeted them because of their sexual orientation, using the end of the world as a rationale. 

They make clear that their visions said nothing about being a single-sex couple and that had nothing to do with it. However, one of them has a connection to Eric and Andrew's past that opens the door to a possible hate crime. From what I saw, it looks less like a genuine hate crime and more like a random attack. It fudges a bit on that point, but I digress.

Knock at the Cabin is short, simple and holds up well. Some parts were frustrating (why not just kill the intruders when they had the chance given it would be justifiable homicide). However, if you don't examine it too thoroughly and can endure a somewhat inflated view of itself, Knock at the Cabin is acceptable and not taxing in terms of viewing and time. 

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