Love him, loathe him, or simply be forever intrigued by him, M. Night Shyamalan has continued to provoke and stir audiences with a vast array of twisty, thrilling films and the filmmaker shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. Striking big with 1999’s sensation The Sixth Sense, a film that is still labelled his “calling card” despite – whisper it – better efforts in his filmography (see The Village, Unbreakable, Split), Shyamalan has always been anything but dull. His enthralling, unique visions of the world and humanity have posed some big questions to his audiences and the choices they would make. With Knock At The Cabin, a lean, insular, reflective thriller, he poses perhaps the biggest one of all. Something small, then.
Out in the beautiful woodland surroundings of a local forest, young Wen (Kristen Cui) is busying herself collecting grasshoppers whilst her parents Eric (Jonathan Groff) and Andrew (Ben Aldridge) relax in their picturesque cabin they have rented for a family vacation. Emerging from the trees, Wen is approached by a burly, bespectacled man who introduces himself as Leonard (an excellent, film-stealing Dave Bautista) and is soon joined by three others as they approach the cabin. But their intentions are nothing like the holidaymakers had anticipated, and the group simply has one question for them: will you sacrifice one of you to save the world?
The impossible choice, save one to save us all. It’s a question that this writer has been discussing with many since watching the film and still, until you’re confronted with it, the answer is unknown. Shyamalan, a master of tension and thoughtfulness, is right at home with this material and immediately has us under his spell once again. Indeed, this is perhaps the filmmaker’s most stripped-back venture in terms of plot and locale and it acts more as a chamber piece than world-ending apocalypse. Yet you feel the weight of the world on this single cabin as the emotional strains begin to snap.
Shot on prestige 35mm by Jarin Blaschke (The VVitch) as if from a ’90s thriller, it had all the beauty you’d expect as well as keeping the claustrophobic, paranoid elements bubbling away before they boil over in spectacular fashion.
That said, for all the film’s strengths, it is in its messages and ultimate finale that it loses its way a little, becoming somewhat befuddled. It clearly has a lot to say about the pandemic and the state of the world with regard to global warming and the repercussions of how we treat the planet, both economically and politically. They’re all vast topics for debate and protest right now across the world, as are the unrest and paranoia they’ve given rise to, but the film’s focus is never quite sharp enough. Still, this is arguably Shyamalan’s best work for a while and despite its uneven nature is sure to stir up much emotion.