The biggest mystery going into any M. Night Shyamalan movie these days is which M. Night are you going to get?
It’s been a long, long time (two decades) since the once-declared “Next Spielberg” made a great movie, but it’s also been a while since he gave us The Happening, too. Thankfully, his latest, Knock at the Cabin, is a tight, suspenseful, and well-crafted thriller–not a great one by any means, but an enjoyable one.
Knock at the Cabin is about a couple (Jonathan Groff and Ben Aldridge) and their daughter Wen (Kristen Cui) who find themselves hostages to four seemingly crazed individuals (Dave Bautista, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Rupert Grint, Abby Quinn) who claim the apocalypse is coming. The thing is: they might be telling the truth.
Shyamalan wastes no time getting into the action; Knock at the Cabin’s first scene is unsettling and it ratchets up from there. The film maintains a steady sense of suspense throughout, which, regardless of how the story resonates with you, deserves credit.
I won’t delve into the plot points, but there is nothing particularly unpredictable about the movie; I’m no religious scholar but figured out what was going on within the first 20 minutes. More surprising is that the movie lacks one of Shyamalan’s signature go-to’s (no, he still has a cameo). Even still, the story is engaging and the screenplay among the more polished of the director’s career (he shares screenwriting credits with Steve Desmond and Michael Sherman).
The cast elevates the material, though. Everyone, including young Cui, is terrific, with Bautista delivering an electrifying performance as the seemingly soft-hearted bad guy. If you can call him that. Bautista is downright awesome.
I’ll also say that while Daniel Radcliffe may have the most eclectic and head-turning post-Harry Potter career, and Emma Watson the most financially successful, Rupert Grint has arguably emerged as the most talented of the bunch. He’s one to watch, and Shyamalan, who also cast him as a regular in his eerie if frustratingly understated TV series “Servant,” figured it out years ago.
At a lean hour and 40 minutes, Knock at the Cabin is over before you can blink. But as consistently suspenseful as it is, the movie fails to elevate to the next level; it isn’t quite as gripping as it could have been, and not nearly as fun or as bonkers as, say, Cabin in the Woods, another horror movie that is wildly different and yet shares more than a few similarities, too. The ending is a little ho-hum; not terrible, but not something that will leave you buzzing as you walk out of the theater.
Knock at the Cabin doesn’t rank among Shyamalan’s best movies, but it’s far from his worst. It’s content sitting somewhere in the middle, and that’s OK with me. All in all, this one is worth opening the door for; you just may not feel the desire to ever return.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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