I loves me a good horror movie, and the trailer for M. Night Shamalayan’s “Knock at the Cabin” looks freaky as hell.
Sure, a couple of his other movies have been not so great, but we’ve always got “Signs” to keep hope alive.
But based on this review alone I’m thinking I might not waste my time:
Spoiler alert: the climactic event of “Knock at the Cabin” is a book burning. I’ll spare you the details, but suffice it to say that, lest anyone deem Hollywood a solid front of liberal messaging, this new film by M. Night Shyamalan provides yet another hefty counterexample. In a year that has delivered such models of illiberal retrenchment as “Top Gun: Maverick,” “Tár,” and “Avatar: The Way of Water,” “Knock at the Cabin” has the virtue of being the most daring, brazen, imaginative, and radical of them. It’s starkly posed as a conflict of faith against reason—and it presents a faith-based order that’s ready and willing to use violence in pursuit of its redemptive vision. So far, so apt. What’s jolting about Shyamalan’s film is its call to capitulation. The director puts the onus on the liberal and progressive element of American society to meet violent religious radicals more than halfway, lest they yield to even worse rages, lest they unleash an apocalypse.
Or, rather, the Apocalypse. The premise of the movie is the visitation, upon an ordinary American family, of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, who aren’t all men and who show up not on horseback but by truck, and who turn a seemingly run-of-the-mill home-invasion thriller into a cosmic spectacle of metaphysical mumbo-jumbo. It’s also a suspense film, in which just about nothing but the plot matters, and therefore any discussion risks being spoiler-y; I’ll be careful, but be forewarned. The family that’s vacationing in the titular cabin, isolated in deep woods and far beyond cell-phone signals, comprises Andrew (Ben Aldridge), a human-rights lawyer; Eric (Jonathan Groff), whose job is unspecified; and their daughter, Wen (Kristen Cui), who discloses at the start that she’s nearly eight, and whom they adopted from China. The foursome of intruders is led by one Leonard (Dave Bautista), a soft-spoken hulk and second-grade teacher from Chicago; his companions are Sabrina (Nikki Amuka-Bird), a nurse from Southern California; Adriane (Abby Quinn), a line cook at a Mexican restaurant in Washington, D.C.; and Redmond (Rupert Grint), who works for a gas company in Medford, Massachusetts.
The first contact is made, in the woods, by Leonard, who espies Wen catching grasshoppers and gently tries to convince her that he’s a nice guy, not a creep, explaining that he needs to meet her parents and that it’s a matter of his job—“maybe the most important job in the history of the world.” (For a second, I thought he might be a film critic.) The foursome indeed knocks, and, when they’re denied entry, they break in by means of the weapons that they call tools: neo-medieval, seemingly homemade devices (such as a pickaxe and a mallet at the end of a thick broomstick). Then they make the demand that already went viral, long before the movie’s opening, by way of its trailers. The four intruders claim to have foreknowledge of impending disasters that will extinguish human life—unless this family chooses one member to sacrifice and then carries out the killing, and not by suicide. One trailer put the choice starkly—“save your family or save humanity”—but, of course, there’s no choice; they need to do both, and the movie’s main suspense is how they’ll manage to pull it off.
There’s no discussing “Knock at the Cabin” without disclosing another pair of salient details: first, the quartet is endowed with powers stronger than mere clairvoyance. They’re able to cause apocalyptic, high-body-count plagues and, in the course of the action, they don’t shrink from doing so in the name of a higher justice, or, as they say, “judgment.” (It’s never clear that the apocalypse that they foresee is anything more than the one that they themselves control.) Second, out of all the cabins and all the families that the apocalyptos could have picked, they landed on a place inhabited by a couple with whom they had history—one of the quartet happens to have been a gay-basher who attacked Andrew and left him with serious injuries as well as some non-Christian thoughts about aggressive self-defense. (That the basher’s real name is revealed to be O’Bannon, an unambiguously political wink, suggests the extent to which Shyamalan expects an L.G.B.T.Q. human-rights attorney to turn the other cheek, forgive, defer, and, yes, even obey.)
Yeah, no. I don’t think so.