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Knock at the Cabin’s twist is that it isn’t a Horror movie

M Night Shyamalan returns after the success of 2021’s Old, with an adaptation of Paul G Tremblay’s book, The Cabin at the End of the World. Knock at the Cabin follows four strangers who interrupt a family holiday with seeming malicious intent.  At first glance, Knock at the Cabin looks and acts like a horror film. But this film unfolds into a deeply religious treatise exploring tests of faith. Unfortunately, it ends up being successful only as a test of patience.

Dave Bautista is Leonard, a brooding gentle giant who meets 7-year-old Wen (Kristen Cui) just outside her idyllic holiday cabin. Leonard and his three compatriots, Sabrina, Adrienne and Redmond (Nikki Amuka-Bird, Abby Quinn and Rupert Grint) have come to deliver an unwelcome message to Wen’s parents, Eric and Andrew (Jonathan Groff and Ben Aldridge), involving terrible sacrifices to be made for the greater good. The four strangers bear large rusting tools and the dads, having previously suffered abuse because of their relationship, assume that this is a planned homophobic attack. But no, the strangers’ purpose is something entirely different. Or, to put it another way, Knock at the Cabin is The Happening meets Signs.

This film had so much potential. The seven main cast members take their work seriously, and Cui is an absolute delight although it’s no fun watching her deal with issues beyond her years. The filmmaking is tense, with lots of stifling close-ups and perfect cutaways at violent moments. The flaw lies in the story, somewhat changed from the book. Many characters are maddeningly obtuse, meaning Bautista’s hulking frame is less scary than Aldridge’s righteous anger, and the film is far too solemn. The claustrophobic cabin always works as a horror setting, and tension is kept high, but Shyamalan feels compelled to subvert his own twisty reputation to the point of ridicule, so we’re already on board with the film’s wildest swings from the get-go. Knock at the Cabin is sometimes offensive, dousing modern problems with the stink of fire and brimstone. The film seems to simultaneously blame humanity for the state of the world, while removing all agency to change it. The exploration of the effects of homophobia on the central couple’s psyche is interesting, yet Shyamalan undermines this by attempting to rewrite the Bible’s approach to homosexuality, something that even film directors don’t have the power to do.

But the biggest travesty committed by Knock at the Cabin is its ending, which totally undermines Shyamalan’s critique of religious zealotry. Unlike Signs, the film’s end is strangely unmoving. It’s touted as a horror romp, but Knock at the Cabin feels more like a pious lecture. For a director who hates organised religion so much, Shyamalan can’t stop making films about it.

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