By Bradley Lane
M. Night Shyamalan was Hollywood’s golden boy when he first broke into the filmmaking scene with his 1999 smash hit film The Sixth Sense. Its wildly inventive twist ending shocked audiences and earned Shyamalan two Academy-Award nominations. However, soon Shyamalan’s name became synonymous with the twist ending and this audience expectation of what a Shyamalan movie should be like in some ways derailed his career. Shallow writing, negative critical reception, and most importantly, bad box-office performance soon led to Hollywood essentially banning Shyamalan from the industry. Despite this he has seen a career resurgence thanks to his audacious decision to self-fund his most recent films. This run of financially successful films continues with his newest film, Knock at the Cabin.
Set in a remote cabin in rural Pennsylvania, a group of mysterious strangers approach a young girl named Wen and explain to her that her parents will have to make a very important and very difficult decision. Wen then runs back into the cabin to alert her parents, Eric and Andrew that strange people with weapons are outside trying to get into the cabin. Once inside, the strangers tie up the family and explain to them they have to make an impossible choice, or the world will end in a violent supernatural apocalypse.
On paper, the setup here is perfect; it establishes tension between the two parties’ goals and locks them in a tight space where they have to work through their disparate interpretations of the same situation. However, the writing completely sucks any tension out of the situation. By effectively throwing out the ambiguity of the situation and failing to characterize any of our protagonists in a meaningful way outside of their trauma, Shyamalan deprives his audience of ever feeling the pressure of what should be an edge-of-your-seat thriller.
Paired with clunky dialogue and uneven camerawork, it’s incredible that an actor could have a standout performance, but Dave Bautista as Leonard cuts through the slack to deliver a truly special turn as a gentle giant forced into a morally complicated situation. If there is any reason to watch this film, it is solely for him. Most every other actor seems to be going through the motions, but Bautista is completely arresting while on screen. Though the clunky dialogue affects how convincing he is, at the film’s heart he is what will ultimately have audiences emotionally invested.
Knock at the Cabin seems to be a hit commercially and I have a lot of respect for M. Night’s bet-on-yourself attitude that has led him to self-finance his projects, but the end result is a boring, overwritten, and yet underdeveloped film that begs for a re-write and a more competent hand behind the camera. Knock at the Cabin is currently in theaters. – 1.5/5 stars