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Review: Knock at the Cabin (2023)

Knock at the Cabin (2023)

Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan

Premise: Based on the book The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay. A girl (Kristen Cui) and her same sex parents (Jonathan Groff and Ben Aldridge) are held hostage in an isolated cabin by a group of religious zealots who insist that the world is about to end.

What Works: Knock at the Cabin has an interesting premise. A group of people bound by what they believe is a divine vision imprison a couple and their child, convinced that this family must sacrifice one of their own or the world will end. The interplay between the hostages and their captors is complicated and tense. The religious zealots genuinely believe what they’re doing but they don’t have malice toward this family. The central performances are very good in particular Dave Bautista as the leader of the religious captors and his companions played by Nikki Amuka-Bird, Rupert Grint, and Abby Quinn. They come across as sane people who don’t want to be doing this but are entirely convinced of the rightness of their vision. That internal conflict is evident throughout their performances. Knock at the Cabin also has some interesting cinematic touches. The photography frequently uses shallow depth of field and smart framing of the characters that draw attention to the subtext of the action. 

What Doesn’t: The premise of Knock at the Cabin superficially dramatizes the trolly problem but the filmmakers don’t consider any of the implications of the story’s conceit. This family is faced with a terrible choice but the logic of this proposed human sacrifice doesn’t make sense. Is the world being punished and if so, why? Or is this some kind of test like the Biblical story of Abraham and Isaac? In that case, what’s being tested and to what end? The film doesn’t address any of this and it’s poorer for it. The stakes are real enough but stories like this demand to be analyzed like a philosophical problem and there’s just not very much to consider. The most compelling aspect of Knock at the Cabin is the ambiguity of the story’s conceit. It is unclear at first if the captors are experiencing actual visions or if they are suffering from a mass delusion or if this is some kind of bizarre prank. That ambiguity doesn’t hold up for long. The answer becomes obvious relatively quickly. As is often the case with these kinds of conceits, the resolution fails to live up to its potential. The end of the film is acceptable but it’s also the least interesting part of the story.

Bottom Line: Knock at the Cabin is a middle tier M. Night Shyamalan effort. The film struggles to find a satisfying ending and its moral conflict isn’t given enough depth but for significant stretches Knock at the Cabin is compelling enough to work as a thriller.

Episode: #940 (March 12, 2023)