Hit All You Want, Nobody’s Home in M. Night Shyamalan’s Latest Movie – Orlando Sentinel
“Knock at the Cabin” is a real load – 100 dismal minutes of what is supposed to be a growing dread and apocalypse prevention seminar.
It’s frustrating because writer-director M. Night Shyamalan has made some really great films and some that fall apart. With each new Shyamalan project, millions of moviegoers have a way to hold on to hope based on his best efforts and the luck of the draw.
This one comes from Paul Tremblay’s 2018 novel “The Cabin at the End of the World”, and there are times when the adaptation by Shyamalan, Steve Desmond and Michael Sherman – the filmmaker wrote his version based on the screenplay of Desmond and Sherman – feels like he might be getting somewhere, albeit slowly. The acting is quite good. But there’s more to filmmaking and storytelling than actors can do.
In a remote corner of the Pennsylvania woods, married dads Eric and Andrew are vacationing with their young daughter, Wen. Right Away, Trouble: As Wen scoops grasshoppers out of a jar, amid the hot sun and cool shade captured by cinematographers Jarin Blaschke and Lowell A. Meyer, the young girl spots a tall man nearby and getting closer.
It’s Dave Bautista as Leonard, who fights his way through Wen’s reluctance to talk to strangers. In his tightly coiled whisper, he mentions that he and three other people will be visiting his fathers very soon. They have an extremely important decision to make, he said.
That’s what they do, very early in the film, which wastes no time and yet wastes a lot of it in other ways. Leonard is soon joined by his associates, nurse Sabrina (Nikki Amuka-Bird), brash ex-con Redmond (Rupert Grint), and restaurant cook Ardiane (Abby Quinn). With the exception of Redmond, they are all oddly tormented and sympathetic to their captives, despite carrying creepy homemade weapons with large, sharp blades. Leonard and company make their way into the cabin and begin their little speech, explaining the situation to the soon to be bound and gagged family. That is: one of the three must be sacrificed to prevent a worldwide apocalypse.
Leonard and company were afflicted with shared “visions” of earthquakes, planes falling from the sky, etc. Somehow they were intuitively guided to this cabin in these woods to fulfill their grim but Earth-saving destiny. Are they doomsayers? Or legitimate omens of Earth’s final credits?
The film is part passive-aggressive home invasion thriller, part doomsday nightmare, and part unusually harsh Airbnb ad. (It’s a very nice cabin.) “Knock at the Cabin” weaves in flashbacks to earlier times in the lives of Eric (played by Jonathan Groff, who was King George in “Hamilton”) and Andrew (Ben Aldridge ). A flashback reveals a homophobic hate crime incident at a bar a few years ago; another, the adoption in China of their daughter, interpreted in current scenes by Kristen Cui.
I doubt a viewer’s parental/non-parental status has much to do with enjoying Shyamalan’s latest. It’s a drag to have it all so dependent on young Wen witnessing such traumatic but dramatically thin events up close. Oddly, “Knock at the Cabin” seems to be perpetually stalling, pulling out its simplest set-ups and exchanges in order to disentangle meaning and subtext. The suspense does not degenerate as much as sidewind. While there are some well-realized glimpses (on the cabin TV, mostly) of what’s happening in the world as Leonard predicted – cellphone footage of a massive tsunami; jetliners crashing to earth – the heart of the story, the beleaguered family, struggles to gain a foothold.
Shyamalan had similarly toned down narrative challenges in “Old” (2021), which kept audiences ahead of the twists and plots. That one kind of worked; this one, to me, doesn’t, and even with the reworked script of Tremblay’s novel for a less brutal multiplex experience (a matter of who lives and who dies), in the end you’re stuck with hyperbolic allegory without from what countless same-sex couples face in America. If this isn’t tragically the common wickedness of hate crimes, it’s the end of this fucking world, as both the Book of Revelation predicts and Dave Bautista.
Things to do
A look at entertainment and sporting events in Orlando and Central Florida.
“Hit the Booth” – 1.5 stars (out of 4)
MPA rating: R (for violence and language)
How to watch: Premieres in theaters Thursday night, February 2.
Michael Phillips is a reviewer for the Tribune.