Being a fan of M. Night Shyamalan is not an easy place to be. His filmography has some epic highs and even more epic lows. The trailers for his new film, Knock at the Cabin (2023), didn’t do a lot to suggest which side of the director’s filmography it would fall on. Fortunately, the performances, story, and direction make this one of his best entries in some time.
Wen (Kristen Cui) is about to turn eight years old and is on vacation in a remote cabin with her dads, Andrew (Jonathan Groff) and Eric (Ben Aldridge). While catching grasshoppers, Leonard (Dave Bautista) walks up and joins Wen. His kindness belies his gigantic presence, and Wen lowers her defenses. Three “friends” of Leonard reveal themselves, and Wen breaks into the cabin. Leonard, Redmond (Rupert Grint), Sabrina (Nikki Amuka-Bird), and Adriane (Abby Quinn) are there on an important mission that directly impacts the lives of Eric, Andrew, and Wen.
Bautista’s desire to be regarded as a serious actor as opposed to a wrestler-turned-actor is well-established at this point, but his performance here will definitely help in that desire. He delivers such an emotional and layered character and really makes the story click. From the opening scene with Wen, Leonard’s inner turmoil about the pending confrontation is clear. It is within the sincerity of the line reads that the audience is brought into the movie as if we are sitting in the cabin with the seven characters.
Shyamalan reuses a narrative structure he employed in Split (2016) with the backstory of the family. In both films, there are characters trapped in a situation that feels tremendously doomed and inescapable. Both movies flash back to moments prior to this entrapment, to inform the audience of who the characters are and how they got to be who we are witnessing. In KATC, we learn about the struggles that Andrew and Eric have had, the adoption of Wen, and their arrival on their vacation. These all help inform why they are reacting to their current circumstances the way that they are. It’s a powerful tool that Shyamalan has found himself able to deftly employ.
I’m happy to say that Knock at the Cabin is a top-tier Shyamalan entry. The entire film had me enraptured, and it wasted no time. The camera work only helps pull the audience into the world that Shyamalan has crafted, and makes it impossible to escape. The claustrophobic nature of the story suffocates as each minute ticks by until the finale. Knock at the Cabin earns the Not Quite Golden, Ponyboy rating.