“Knock at the Cabin” is M. Night Shymalan’s return to, if not stardom, at least respectability. Most of the fans who have reviewed the film have liked it. The critics? Not so much.
As a critic, I vote with the people. Cal me more Ebert than Siskel.
I liked it, although—let’s face it, folks—it is going to be very difficult for Shymalan to ever live up to the “twist” of “The Sixth Sense.” He has had 7 films in a row that have opened at Number One at the box office and, as another review said, “He’s the rare brand-name filmmaker who prefers to be a low-budget outsider.” Apparently, Shymalan has been financing his own movies ever since the one about the girl who lived in the swimming pool (Bryce Dallas Howard, Ron’s daughter) with Paul Giamatti self-destructed back in 2006 (“Lady in the Water”). That one was a bit of a stinker, true.
I applaud Shymalan’s realization that, in order to control the final product, he would need “final cut” and one way to get that is by securing your own financing. He seems to be continuing to make films post that swimming pool disaster, so I’m guessing it’s turned out to be personally profitable. Since this one only cost $20 million to make, it should turn a profit, which means more movies from M. Night Shymalan (and more cameo appearances, a la Alfred Hitchcock), as we briefly see him in the infomercial about air fryers on television.
Let’s recap, post his breakthrough and most memorable 1999 film (“The Sixth Sense”), which was the second highest-grossing horror movie of all time.
“Unbreakable” – 2000. Budget – $75 million. Made worldwide: $248 million.
“Signs” – 2002. Budget $72 million. Made worldwide: $408 million.
“The Village” – 2004. Budget – $60 million. Made worldwide: $257 million.
“Lady in the Water” in 2006 lost money and got bad reviews.
“The Happening”- 2008. Budget $48 million. Made worldwide: $248 million.
“The Last Airbender” -2010. Budget $150 million. Made worldwide: $319 million. $98 million.
“Split” – 2017. Budget: $9 million. Made worldwide: $279 million.
“Glass” – 2019. Budget – $20 million. Made worldwide: $247 million.:
“Old” – 2021. Budget- $18 million. Made worldwide: $90 million.
“Knock at the Cabin” – 2023. Budget of $20 million. Opened with $14 million (#1) and has already grossed $21 million worldwide.
Profit on the 9 films above, 2,117 million for 9 films, or $235 million per film.
- James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy
- Gael García Bernal, Vicky Krieps
- Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson
- Mel Gibson, Joaquin Phoenix
- Sigourney Weaver, William Hurt
In his twenties, [Shyamalan] says, “I don’t think you could have told me that making thrillers for your whole life wasn’t a bad thing. At first it was a sense of, ‘Hey, I can make anything.’ But that’s hypocritical, because when I pick up an Agatha Christie novel in my library, I have a strong expectation. So, I get it … When I became happy with the idea of making thrillers for the rest of my life, everything went right.”[ This courtesy of Wikipedia.]
So, how thrilling is “Knock at the Cabin”? It held our interest, for sure.
The script, co-written by Shyamalan, Steve Desmond, and Michael Sherman (adapting Paul Tremblay’s book The Cabin at the End of the World), is a binary plot concept, not a twist. (Shymalan has abandoned the idea that every film he makes must have a “surprise” ending, even if audiences have not abandoned that expectation.)
For this one, you either have to accept the premise that the quartet of strangers who come upon little Wen (Kristen Cui) in the woods catching grasshoppers and putting them in a bug jar are truly psychic individuals, not unlike Richard Dreyfuss and troupe in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and have had a major league religious vision, or you don’t buy into that truth. The bugs seem(ed) symbolic, to me, of the soon-to-be-imprisoned family members.
My husband felt there were echoes of “10: Cloverfield Lane.” I’ve already mentioned the visions of the various folk in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” Reviewer Nick Allen felt that Jordan Peele’s “Us” echoed throughout the film, a comparison that did not resonate for me. Another mentioned Shymalan’s fascination with the End of Times (“The Happening”) and suggested he avoid the topic in the future. (Ahem).
The quartet breaks into the cabin and tells the family there that they must kill one of their three family members to prevent the end of the world. The major evidence to support their theory seems to be televised segments showing the catastrophes the quartet has predicted. The Four Horsemen (Malice, Nurturing, Guidance, Healing, says the script. Wikipedia says sword, famine, plague and the wild beasts of the Earth, among other listings.) could have pre-taped this “proof,” which Daddy Andrew points out. With all the bad people in the world, does Andrew really care about saving all (or any) of them? He’s not religious (we learn this from the adoption scene), but Eric is, and we can see that plot point coming a mile away, especially after the script says “Trust in something more than yourself.” [The uber religious will relate to that.]
The acting is good, with Ben Aldridge playing Andrew and Jonathan Groff portraying Eric. Jonathan Groff was in “Frozen” and “Mindhunters” as well as a role onstage in “Hamilton.” I swear he had a recurring role in “GLOW,” but I cannot find his name among those credits, so please drop me a line if you remember him in “GLOW” (Great Ladies of Wrestling).
The pair in the cabin is a gay couple who have adopted 8-year-old (“8 in six days”) Wen from Asia. This fulfills the obligatory plot point a homosexual or lesbian relationship must at least be alluded to in present-day film(s). I was put off by the scene near the end when Wen is told to go sit in a treehouse and wear her headphones. She is then MIA from some pretty important developments, but it will take years of therapy to overcome what she has already witnessed. Seems like too little too late, plotwise, to rush her off to a leafy hideaway and tell her to tune out.
The four attackers are led by the gentle giant Leonard, played by Dave Bautista (“Guardians of the Galaxy,” “The Glass Onion”). Leonard is a second grade teacher from Chicago and seems quite apologetic about the quartet’s need to bring pain and suffering to the family in the remote wooded cabin. The biggest “name” actor of the four is Rupert Grint as Redmond (“Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” of 2001).
We soon learn that Redmond might have a grudge against Ben, in particular, and may have actually attacked him in a bar many years before, in a fairly traumatic encounter. Is this a delayed vendetta of some sort? There are two women in the group of Crazies-or-Are-They: one is Nikki Amuka-Bird as Sabrina, a post-operative nurse. The other is Abby Quinn as Adriane. While Sabrina is a post-op nurse, Adriane seems to be a bit of a lightweight, mentally; she worked as a fry cook.
The entire 100 minute plot hinges on whether or not the intruders can convince the small family that they must sacrifice one of their own to save the world.
I thought how timely this entire plot concept of Q-Anon crazies is in a world beset with misinformation where, as we know, one such deluded fellow actually swallowed whole the entire story of Hillary Clinton operating a child trafficking ring out of a pizza parlor. There are enough lunatics on the national scene, currently, to populate a large city, and we saw many of them on January 6th. The quartet is quite devoted to their cause, however, and use televised segments showing all of the horrible things that will occur if the family doesn’t capitulate. First, flood and earthquake. Then pestilence. Then planes falling out of the sky. Then fire. Later, we learn that the unifying device involved is the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, but please stop reading if you are unhappy that I have gone this far in discussing the plot. (I haven’t gone any further than the star of the film Dave Bautista has done in discussing the plot on national television, but I may from this point forward, so buckle up. Or don’t. Whatever. I’m going to discuss some plot concepts, and most of these plot points I have not seen discussed anywhere else.)
I have seen various critics praise the idea of the family in the woods being gay saying, in effect, “Bring it on!” I have no argument with having the family be gay, bi-sexual, trans, lesbian or any other segment of the population. It seemed timely. While I applaud the culture for being accepting of any depiction of a loving family, I am more interested in the mechanics of trying to either accept or reject the binary plot points that will determine how this film plays out. It is overdue for minorities of various sorts to receive equal and fair treatment and opportunities; I wonder if the % of the plot occurrences will ever match the % of each minority in the nation as a whole?
At one point, the script says, “There’s always a choice. Our choices make our destiny. Will you make a choice to save the world?” Psychology 101.
ONE WORD OF CAUTION
Why is acquiring a gun the salvation of the family? Does anyone other than me think we have way more guns (and gun owners) now than we need? Encouraging more people to go buy guns, if an unintended consequence of the film, was NOT the timely message I hoped for. However, once Daddy Andrew (Ben Aldridge) does get his hands on a gun, near the film’s climax, it makes no sense that he wouldn’t use it on Leonard. This didn’t really compute, for me, but, then, that is true of many points in many movies (as I’m sure you would agree.) I won’t hold that against Shymalan. Reminds me of the time my brother-in-law gave me a hard time in my first novel (“The Color of Evil”) because my psychotic killer clown escapes from a prison van while being transferred from one prison to another. Uncle Mark contended that massive amounts of security would have been on hand to transfer the dangerous criminal. Maybe he was right; maybe I was right. (I had addressed the staffing issue.) A bit of suspension of belief and leeway is due the creative guru IMHO.
On the other hand, all of the catastrophes that the quartet foretold are very timely (and well illustrated). Tsunamis (check). Cities flooding. (Check) Deadly plague (Check. See Covid). Planes plunging to Earth. (Check). Fire (California Burning.) Crazy people ranting (Marjorie Taylor Green, Q-Anon, and half of the Republican party). Plus the entire lack of faith in faith in anything (government, religion, marriage, etc.) on a lot of people’s parts, which this film also capitalizes upon.
As any good Hitchcock fan knows, the music can make the moment. Hitchcock’s partnership with Bernard Herrmann or Damian Chazelle’s partnership with Justin Hurwitz or Jordan Peele’s collaborations with Michael Abels are examples. Here, the composer of the score is Herdis Stefansdottir. The Music Supervisor was Susan Jacobs. The film really benefits from the music.
Camerawork from Jarin Blaschke and Lowell A. Meyer is excellent. You will note that the choice to pull away from acts of intentional violence inflicted by the attackers on themselves is made by Shymalan. I’m always reticent to watch explicit gore of the splatter or any other variety. You may feel differently. Your choice, but I liked Shymalan’s discretion here.
M. Night Shymalan lives on a 125 acre estate near Philadelphia. His fans, like Taylor Swift’s “Swifties,” are quite devoted. Therefore, he has complete creative control, has garnered Oscar nominations for some of his films, does a great job, and is laughing all the way to the bank. This is not to suggest that just making money is any kind of criteria for works of art, but this latest offering is both enjoyable, interesting, well-done, and profitable. Like the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, that’s a dynamite combination. I didn’t like it as much as 2016’s “Split,” but I do think it was a return to form (from “Old”) for Shymalan. Try it, if you’ve liked any of his previous films.