M Night Shyamalan has created a monster. Ever since the brilliant and shocking The Sixth Sense, his following films have continuously teased mystery and horror, and almost every time, failed to deliver.
Knock at the Cabin is the next installment in his filmography and once more falls into the usual pattern of a great premise and story, with a lackluster third act and disappointing conclusion. Based on the 2018 horror novel The Cabin at the End of the world by author Paul Tremblay, the story starts with Wen (Kristen Cui), a Chinese-American girl playing in the woodland before being approached by the mysterious Leonard (Dave Bautista). He acts nicely but his motives are unclear as the tone turns sinister. She runs to her fathers, the gentle Eric (Jonathan Groff) and aggressive Andrew (Ben Aldridge), who’s rental ends up the venue of a home invasion.
Redmond (Rupert Grint), Ardiane (Abby Quinn) and Sabrina (Nikki Amuka-Bird) join Leonard with weapons and take the family prisoner as they reveal that they will change the future of the world. Infect it’s end can be stopped by the family itself if they do one thing: one must be killed voluntarily. What follows is a moral dilemma of epic proportions, as we revisit the past of Eric and Andrew’s relationship and understand that one of the people in front of them is more familiar than they would know.
Shyamalan is out of his depth here. A stronger script could have seen the exploration of the characters as they struggle with the morality of their decision and the interplay with those that hold them captive. There is the bigger story of forgiveness in the face of discrimination that is alluded to, but undermined by the shoddy storytelling, that is anti-climactic and overblown. Indeed the story overall lacks thrills and the strong motivation of its primary characters.
Performances are strong all around, with key mention of Groff’s performance that is nuanced and honest, particularly in the face of other characters who seem like more of a caricature in another story. But sadly the lack of true resolution in the end makes for an underwhelming experience. As things happen that shock and scare characters play out, it comes across underwhelming to the audience, with the story beats predictable. Most of all the ending lacks any real oomph and makes you feel like it’s all been a waste of time. Sadly, this is no The Sixth Sense, or even his more recent Old, with a wider thematic concern explored. This should have remained a story in a cabin in the wood that nobody knocks on.