M. Night Shyamalan Pits Pessimism Against the Absurd and the Spiritual in ‘Knock at the Cabin’ | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

A remote cabin in the woods, and the imminent threat of the apocalypse whose arrival depends on a decision made by a select number of individuals, sounds familiar right? But don’t worry, the latest from the brilliant mind of acclaimed filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan is nothing like the 2011 horror film we’re all thinking about—there aren’t any out-of-the-blue plot twists to look out for either.

Based on the book ‘The Cabin at the End of the World’ written by Paul Tremblay, ‘Knock at the Cabin’ stars, Dave Bautista, Jonathan Groff, Ben Aldridge, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Kristen Cui, Abby Quinn, and Rupert Grint in a vacation getaway turned the fate of the world hung on a balance scenario. The film is directed by M. Night Shyamalan and produced alongside Marc Bienstock and Ashwin Rajan.

‘Knock at the Cabin’ centers on a gay couple, Eric (Jonathan Groff) and Andrew (Ben Aldridge) and their adopted daughter Wen (Kristen Cui), who are vacationing at a remote cabin in the woods, when their house is surrounded by four armed strangers: Leonard (Dave Bautista), Sabrina (Nikki Amuka-Bird), Adrianne (Abby Quinn), and Redmond (Rupert Grint.) Taken hostage, the family is informed that these four strangers—who also do not know each other—have all been haunted and tormented by a shared prophecy: that the world will end unless the family in this cabin chooses one member of the family to die.

The film wastes no time, hitting the ground running and revealing the dilemma to be solved within minutes of its beginning—there’s no twist, no subtle foreshadowing, and no buildup—you have to make a decision, or else the world ends. In a sense, that does resemble the likely scenario to unfold during an actual apocalypse—there wouldn’t be a grand reveal and you wouldn’t be given time to think, to survive or not, that’s all there is to it.

Whether these four people are crazy or correct doesn’t exactly resolve the problem—nobody wins, and both scenarios are equally horrific. The film plays this situation to perfection, making fine use of its setting; a secluded cabin in the woods, four strangers, and a threat so absurd but they can’t possibly confirm or falsify. To force your hand to do the unimaginable on the basis of a threat that you can’t afford to test, it’s an impossible circumstance. A film that deals with limited space and forces beyond human comprehension, this reminded me of ‘Devil’ which was also written by M. Night Shyamalan—if you haven’t seen that yet, that is also worth the watch.

But pessimism here is not just borne out of response to absurdity. Sure it will be almost impossible to ask anyone to take the life of their loved one, let alone because of an unbelievable request. But when faced with the prospect of the end of humanity, and provided with evidence to support such a claim, and still decline, there must be something behind such a response. A gay couple that has faced hate, prejudice, and trauma all their lives, as it turns out, maybe they do have a reason to leave humanity to its fate. 

Clinging to denial in the face of an imminent fate is not just shown within the film’s script, but also in the execution of its shots. For a thriller surrounded by themes of the apocalypse and death, bloodshed is used sparingly, and even visually avoided when a scene calls for it—deaths are shown outside the frame as if looking away from it despite it happening before your very eyes.

The acting is phenomenal. Dave Bautista, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Abby Quinn, and Rupert Grint, perfectly portray their roles as the reluctant villains, showing hesitation, vulnerability, and remorse every step of the way. Standing out is Bautista, who for every performance he puts out, further cements his “I never wanted to be the next Rock. I just want to be a good fucking actor. A respected actor” statement. On the other hand, Jonathan Groff and Ben Aldridge knock it out of the ballpark, fitting perfectly as a loving couple with very different personalities; two opposite sides of the same coin if you will. Let’s not forget about Kristen Cui and her stellar performance, a wonderful feature film debut.

In describing the film, M. Night Shyamalan says that it is “reflective of my current feeling that everything that’s going on in the world doesn’t look good and doesn’t feel good, but I do feel we are struggling together in the right direction. We’re certainly not getting it right all the time, but in general, the direction that we’re moving as humanity is in the right direction and we deserve a chance to continue. That’s my feeling. One love story is evidence enough that humanity should keep going. ‘Knock at the Cabin’ is this incredible opportunity for us to experience this gigantic global biblical story through the experience of a family.”

Catch ‘Knock at the Cabin’ at a theater near you starting February 1, 2023!

Images courtesy of Universal Pictures

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