A family contends with the end of the world, and a heart-breaking choice. But where does Knock at the Cabin sit on the Shyamalan spectrum?
When apocalypse-flavoured disaster film Knowing landed in cinemas in 2009, one reviewer likened it to an M. Night Shyamalan movie – as a nod to its failings. Well, what goes around comes around, because here we are in 2023 with Shyamalan’s take on Knowing. Or is it?
Eric, Andrew and their seven-year-old daughter Wen are holidaying at a remote cabin when four strangers turn up with a helluva story. They claim the end of the world is nigh unless the family makes an impossible choice. To stop Armageddon, they must carry out the sacrificial killing of one family member.
Who would you pick? Could you even imagine picking? It’s a horrifyingly compelling question – and of course, never that simple. If members of a doomsday cult showed up at your door, your first question is likely to be whether any of it is for real.
This ambiguity is the heart Shyamalan’s tightly woven thriller, chiming with the director’s affinity for tales that explore mental instability, and worlds that are never quite as they seem.
That said, the best advice for fans (and foes) of the back catalogue is to park preconceptions in the foyer.
Knock at the Cabin and the Shyamalan scale
Thematically, this is solid Shyamalan territory: hope, horror, religion and knawing dread. Even the basic premise sounds a lot like 2002’s Signs. It’s in the treatment of Paul Tremblay’s novel The Cabin at the End of the World where things have shifted (and not just because the film runs things a little differently).
Knock at the Cabin is tense, terse, and rooted in disturbing ideas, yet the story is surprisingly pared back. There’s liberal violence – but it happens almost out of sight, though certainly not out of ear-shot. This can be a very effective trick, though Hereditary’s stomach-grinding anxiety of the unseen takes some beating.
Knock at the Cabin doesn’t quite hit that beat. With its off-camera gore and – for once – straightforward narrative, this is starter-pack horror. It’s a very different vibe than The Sixth Sense or Signs. It’s less The Visit, and more The Village.
Perhaps for all of those reasons, this isn’t a masterpiece, though individual elements do dazzle. Dave Bautista shines hard as cult ringleader Leonard. So does the puzzle at the heart of the narrative. You can give up your family to stop the world ending … but losing your family will be the end of your world.
Wherever it falls on the Shyamalan spectrum, Knock at the Cabin is a watchable thriller shot through with believable emotion. And, at a 100-minute canter, it’s reassuring to see cinema can still tell big stories, briefly.
Knock at the Cabin (2023), directed by M. Night Shyalaman
What to read or watch next
- Split, Unbreakable (Shyamalan)
- The Killing of a Sacred Deer (tough choices …)
- The Day the Earth Stood Still (apocalypse)
Picture credit: Gabriela Palai