Friday, February 03, 2023

M. Night Shyamalan’s Knock at the Cabin

Supposedly, groups of four have power, like the Beatles, Seinfeld cast-members, Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and the home invaders of M. Night Shyamalan’s latest film. For the latter, that might not be a coincidence. The creepy foursome is obsessed with Armageddon, but they claim they want to avert doomsday rather than herald it. Their proselytizing techniques could use some work, but their conviction is intense, as a vacationing family learns in Shyamalan’s heavy-handed Knock at the Cabin, which opens today nationwide.

Little Wen was enjoying her cabin holiday with her two dads, Eric and Andrew, until the hulking Leonard showed up. His demeanor is gentle, but in an ominous way. However, his three friends with their Medieval-looking makeshift weapons are obviously bad news, especially the mean-spirited Redmond. They explain they have come to offer the tight-knit family a Sophie’s Choice from Hell, with the fate of humanity depending on their answer.

Supposedly, the four intruders were rather surprised to discover the two men were a gay couple (who pretended to be brothers-in-law while adopting Wen in homophobic China). That must be especially true of Leonard, since he is played by Dave Bautista (who removed a tattoo of Manny Pacquiao tattoo, because of the boxer-turned-politician’s unfortunate comments on same sex couples). However, Andrew, the lawyer and a former victim of an intolerant attack, is not so sure. Regardless, he is extremely skeptical of the trespassers’ crazy apocalyptic talk.

Cabin, Shyamalan’s forgoes his signature big twists, adopting a “binary” approach. Either it is or it isn’t. Andrew is sure that it isn’t, whereas Eric is maybe starting to entertain their outlandish claims, perhaps partly due to his concussion. There will be no third alternative, arriving out of left field, which makes the ending so disappointing. It just proceeds in an orderly straight line from the original premise, with no deviations.

The titular cabin is an efficiently self-contained setting and the cast ranges from competent to excellent. Frankly, young Kristen Cui’s smart, sensitive performance as Wen is one of the best things going for the film. She is terrific and Dave Bautista’s sinister Mr. Rogers act is seriously unsettling. Rupert Grint is also spectacularly unhinged as nasty Redmond. However, Ben Aldridge and Jonathan Groff look, sound, and act so similarly as Wen’s two dads, it is tough to tell them apart.

Shyamalan and co-screenwriters Steve Desmond and Michael Sherman build a fair degree of claustrophobic unease in their adaptation of Paul Tremblay’s novel, but no surprises. However, they make a convincing case for firearm ownership, particularly for anyone who fears they could be the victim of a hate crime (just keep it in the cabin, rather than the SUV outside). After all, your next home-invader might not be trying to save the world. Be that as it may, this film just runs out of gas and leaves us wondering what was the intended point of it all? Not recommended,
Knock at the Cabin opens today (2/3) in theaters everywhere, including the AMC Lincoln Square.