Oh M. Night Shymalan, what an enigma you are. A director of many styles and stories that has given us truly trend-setting films that defined genres, and some of the dumbest movies I’ve ever seen. Now, while I wouldn’t exactly call myself a “fan” of his work, I can’t help but respect him for being someone who still manages to find success through self-funding his own projects and constantly trying new ideas to surprise viewers. He’s a man with what I assume is a genuine love for movies who never looks to offend anyone. It’s just a shame this mindset doesn’t always translate into good movies. A Knock at the Cabin is the director’s latest foray into thriller territory, aiming for a contained, character driven story about making an impossible decision to save the world. But does it succeed at being emotional, tense and maybe a little thought provoking? Let’s find out.
What was meant to be a quiet, relaxing cabin getaway for a young girl named Wen and her dads Eric and Andrew is quickly turned into a nightmare by the arrival of four people armed with makeshift weapons. The group explains they have experienced a shared vision of the impending apocalypse, and the only way to stop it is if one of the now captive family members chooses to sacrifice one of themselves. The family obviously doesn’t believe them, but as natural disasters begin to roll in across the world, it becomes clear that the fate of the world may be decided inside this small cabin.
So, the concept is fairly simple and the film is rather contained, mostly taking place all in one room. And that’s okay, plenty of directors have made this kind of setup work. Shaymalan actually has at least one decent example of this I can think of, but let’s be honest, he’s not really known for very high quality writing. He seems to be much more of a concept writer rather than a dialogue writer, and that was one of the biggest detractors for me here. Which is a shame because there are some decent performances here that sometimes manage to succeed beyond the writing. Dave Bautista continues to impress with roles that allow him to go against type and really flex his chops as an actor. Despite his character, Leonard, having the appearance of a hulking brute, he’s soft-spoken, well mannered, and incredibly patient despite the fate of the world being on the line. He’s certainly the standout, but most of the other actors do a pretty decent job at expressing terror and emotion. Some of the performances just get shot in the knee by some pretty bad dialogue, which can severely dampen the seriousness of the film’s conflict. The writing also lacks a certain poeticism to give the story enough depth to make it more than a surface-level apocalyptic film, but more on that later. I also couldn’t help but notice a lot of plot holes here, like cable lines being cut leads to phones not working but the television is still fine. Also, the doomsday group sacrificing themselves one by one to unleash a plague on the world didn’t make a ton of sense. If you wanted to stop the apocalypse, maybe don’t do the thing that makes the world progressively worse.
The story itself is surprisingly straightforward for a director known as a purveyor for out-there concepts and surprise twists. That’s not always an issue, but here it makes the story far too predictable and generic. It’s not presented in a way that feels genuinely mysterious or tense because the film doesn’t give enough to convince you that either option, the apocalypse being real or fake, is plausible. It becomes strikingly obvious what the film is trying to do, and for some, it may be enough. It really hinges on the impact of a Would You Rather question; would you sacrifice someone you love to save the lives of everyone on Earth. The conflict is really between Eric and Andrew, two gay men who have faced years of bigotry and hatred from the world, and whether or not their sacrifice is worth saving a world that hates them. The emotional energy behind their aversion to accepting this decision is compelling in a sense, but where this conflict leads them ultimately feels flat, coming out very safe. The most apparent example of this is in the ending, which I can’t really articulate without getting into spoiler territory, so if you want to avoid spoilers, skip to the end of the review.
So I didn’t know this until after I saw the movie, but this is based on a book, The Cabin at the End of the World. While most of the film sounds like a pretty faithful recreation, there are some pretty significant changes. For example, Wen dies after being accidentally shot with Andrew’s gun and dies. Ballsy stuff. In the movie, that doesn’t happen and Wen ends up leaving the cabin with Andrew after Eric decides to sacrifice himself, effectively stopping the apocalypse. But in the book, Eric and Andrew are the last ones left and are given one last opportunity to sacrifice one of themselves to save the world, but they refuse, opting to take on whatever is left in the world together. A pretty bleak and kind of depressing ending, but there’s a reason for this. Andrew and Eric’s identity as a gay couple is a huge theme in both the book and the film, but while the film mostly uses this as a way to differentiate the two dad’s views on their predicament, it’s even more impactful in the book’s ending. With Wen and their captors now dead, Eric and Andrew are left alone to make that sacrificial choice, but they refuse. Their refusal is reflective of attitudes towards gay people in the modern day, where they are constantly told to stop what they are doing and try to hide it as best they can. Refusing to sacrifice one another is also a refusal to give into the wants of the loud majority without concrete evidence the world is actually ending. At the same time, the doomsday group does their best to be kind and patient with them, but still push them because of what they believe is a calling from a higher power. Sound familiar? This makes you question if a command from a higher power like that can possibly be morally good if it’s centered around an immoral act. This is all completely missing from the film, and I think it suffers for it, making the film much more shallow and one-note. I get this probably wouldn’t have appealed to the common audience member, but a discussion could have been sparked. And really, there’s nothing deeper to talk about with this film.
The film isn’t offensively bad or unwatchable because of these changes, but it does let me down a little knowing the Shyamalan seemed to completely miss the point of the book itself. While the performances, visuals and even the pacing are pretty competent at times, the overall narrative and execution is far too weak to let those aforementioned elements be as good as they could be. The emotional moments are undercut by bad writing and a narrative with little mystery or ambiguity, which really holds back the final product. As a simple apocalyptic film it’s only fine, but I’d like to think Shyamalan is capable of more than just fine. Despite how often he tries to convince me otherwise.
There’s no denying we live in crazy times. Sometimes it’s best to just get away from it all, go off grid, and piss off to a world free of the pains and rules of the modern world. But if you’re bad at starting a fire like me, sometimes you gotta settle for an AirBnB cabin in the woods. And if the apocalypse decides to roll up to your door? Well, you can hunker down with this cozy, woodsy cocktail. I chose ingredients that would be warming and comforting, perfect for watching the world fall apart from your secluded log cabin. Whiskey, maple syrup and bourbon are common combinations I’m taking a step further with the addition of some sparkling apple cider. This cocktail is crisp with subtle sweetness that also manages to warm the body. Included a flamed orange peel also adds a new layer to aromatic nature of the cocktail, truly brining everything together in this familiar yet undeniably tasty concoction.
- 2oz bourbon
- 1oz maple syrup
- 1/2oz lemon juice
- 2 dashes Angostura bitters
- 2oz sparkling apple cider
- Garnish: Flamed orange peel
- Add ingredients (except apple cider) to a shaker and shake with ice.
- Strain into rocks glass filled with ice.
- Top with sparkling apple cider.
- Express an orange peel in front of a lit match, directing the spritz onto the top of the drink.
- Garnish with orange peel.