Released: 17th May
Seen: 23rd May
There is a trope in fiction known as “Bury Your Gays” which has become somewhat of a problem in certain pieces of media. The idea is depressingly simple, the idea being that there is a disproportionate number of gay characters dying, normally as a way to expand a straight character’s storyline. Now this doesn’t mean that you can never kill off a gay character, far from it. However, if you do, it should be at the same proportion as straight characters and, preferably, not be completely pointless. Knock at the Cabin is a case study in how to do this correctly while also indulging in more than a few of M Night Shyamalan’s worst tendencies as a writer/director.
Knock at the Cabin tells the story of a little family, seven-year-old Wen (Kristen Cui) along with her fathers Eric (Jonathan Groff) and Andrew (Ben Aldridge) are just having a nice simple little holiday in a cabin in the woods, something that never ends well. In this case, it definitely isn’t going to end well when a quartet of people turn up at the cabin, led by a man named Leonard (Dave Bautista) who tells the little family that they have to make a choice. The choice is that one of the little family has to die at the hands of the other in order to save the world from a series of apocalyptic events. The longer they go without making a choice, the worse things will get for humanity.
To give Knock at the Cabin some serious credit, it has possibly one of the best casts you could hope for in a film like this. The powerhouse pair of Groff and Aldridge absolutely sell the intense romance and love their characters share, with a few little looks in the brief time we get to see them before all hell breaks loose it’s clear how much they adore each other. They’ve created an incredibly believable and captivating couple that you root for with tremendous ease. Counterbalancing them is the best performance in the film by Bautista who truly shows that he is an absolutely fantastic actor who can be the emotional center of anything that is willing to utilize him as much as this film does. It lets him show off a more quiet and personal side to him than anything else has and it is truly engaging.
There’s also a great sense of tension that just builds ever so gradually throughout Knock at the Cabin. It knows that the audience is going to assume that this is just an elaborate gay bashing in progress and plays into that as carefully as they can, letting that unsettling idea linger for as long as possible until shit gets real and they start rushing toward the intense finale, which is the point where everyone’s performances ratchet up a substantial amount and everything goes completely haywire.
However, Knock at the Cabin is an M Night Shyamalan film, which means that so much of the dialogue is grotesquely overwritten to the point of pretentiousness. People just do not talk like this and it can’t help but pull the audience out of the story being told. Sure it’s an extreme situation, a home invasion movie crossbred with an apocalypse is by its nature an extreme situation, but you do need to be able to buy into the reality of the world being presented and that’s kind of hard considering the dialogue that’s been thrown at these actors. They handle it well enough that it almost works but they’re fighting against the worst of Shyamalan’s excess wordiness and it pulls you out of the story.
It also doesn’t help that there are more than enough bad shot choices to make you unwillingly do a double take and again, pull you out of the story. From bad framing to strange shots for the sake of strangeness to shots clearly designed to try and get a low rating from the MPAA (which didn’t work, the film still got an R rating) Knock at the Cabin just doesn’t look that good. The film’s visual tone is somewhere between generic and bad, there’s a clear attempt to try and have some visual tricks here and there but none of them work because they either don’t fit the mood of the scenes or are obvious blatant attempts to hide things that would give the film more of a kick.
Knock at the Cabin is something of a mixed bag when it all comes down to it. While the performances are spectacular and the tension is undeniably there, it’s bogged down by Shyamalan’s tendency to throw excess verbiage into the mouths of seemingly normal people in order to try and sound smarter than he is and cinematography that never quite works. It’s far from being one of Shyamalan’s bad films, it’s got too many interesting elements to be in that extensive group, but it’s far from being one of his few real hits either. It’s fine, there’s a definite idea here that works well enough to make for a decent couple of hours with an effective storyline and a powerhouse ending (the one time Shyamalan avoids doing something he’s known for, no big stupid twist) but it’s not the kind of thing that’s going to go down as something great.