Knock at the Cabin
M. Night Shyamalan doesn’t shy away from metaphysical problems, like sacrificing your life for someone else, and not giving a complete answer. In his newest director-sans-writing gig, he adapts Paul Tremblay’s successful horror hit, Cabin at the End of the World. He also echoes Drew Goddard’s The Cabin in the Woods. You get the idea, this cabin is not the best choice for a family retreat, where four strangers ask a family to sacrifice a member to stop the apocalypse.
That family of three is composed of partners Eric (Jonathan Groff) and Andrew (Ben Aldridge) and their young daughter, Wen (Kristen Cui), about as handsome and cute as you could hope for. The home invasion force is headed by not-so-cute Leonard (sweet-beef Dave Bautista) and others, Redmon (Rupert Grint), Sabrina (Nikki Amuka-Bird), and Adriane (Abby Quinn). All the invaders want is one life to save multitudes who will die if the family doesn’t make a choice.
Outside the thorny question unanswered as to why this family is chosen, Shyamalan continually returns to the challenge of a decision. While Christ apparently had no compunction about His sacrifice, this loving trio finds it next to impossible to make the decision given their devotion to each other and the ever-present question as to the authenticity of the invaders.
Writers Steve Diamond and Michael Sherman make sure we identify with the family’s dilemma and suspect the foursome’s honesty. After all, lives appear to hang in the balance while we question our own response in such a dire circumstance. The patented Shyamalan twist is less apparent here than in this other Sixth-Sense types, but he substitutes smart human responses that beggar explanation. In other words, its an existential drama with horror trappings, the scare being what we might decide relative to ourselves and our fellow human beings.
The multiple news disaster reports do an effective job of proving or disproving the mission of the four. The ambiguity adds a modern twist to the usual horror tropes where the gore you get is real and only occasionally of your mind.
Dave Bautista, comporting himself well as a gentle giant, makes a smooth transition from his Guardians-of-the-Galaxy heroic shenanigans to a more nuanced dramatic role that shows him adept at balancing between honest and manipulative. Nikki Amuka-Bird shows remarkable acting chops for a young’un.
At last, I can recommend a thriller one part horror and many parts human. Although it depicts a family in serious trouble, it also shows the blessed gift of self-sacrifice for their welfare. Be careful the next time you run away to just any cabin in the woods.
Knock at the Cabin
Director: M. Night Shyamalan (The Visit)
Screenplay: Shyamalan, Steve Diamond, Michael Sherman, from Paul Tremblay book, The Cabin at the End of the World.
Cast: Dave Bautista (Guardians of the Galaxy), Rupert Grint (Harry Potter. . .)
Run Time: 1h 40m
John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts NPR’s It’s Movie Time and hosts Cinema Classics as well as podcasts Back Talk and Double Take out of WCBE 90.5 FM. Contact him at JohnDeSando52@gmail.com