You’ll Be Happy to Answer the Knock at the Cabin (2023)
Title: Knock at the Cabin
First Non-Festival Release: February 1, 2023 (Theatrical Release)
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Writer: M. Night Shyamalan
Runtime: 100 Minutes
Starring: Ben Aldridge, Jonathan Groff, Dave Bautista
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
Do you think you could save the world if it were up to you? Most people like to think that they could do it even if it’s not their biggest dream. What if it meant that you had to give up your dearest loved one? This decision would weigh heavily on most and the answers would likely diverge if you asked enough people.
This is the decision that parents Eric (Jonathan Groff) and Andrew (Ben Aldridge) must make with their daughter Wen (Kristen Cui) after they are approached by four people (Dave Bautista, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Rupert Grint, Abby Quinn) who claim that the world will end without their intervention. They must either sacrifice one of themselves to save the world, or choose each other, living on as a family while the rest of humanity dies. Are these people delusional zealots hoping to take advantage of the first family like them they see or are they telling the truth? As the hours pass and the situation gets murkier, it gets harder for the family to remain passive.
A thrilling apocalyptic time-bomb, Knock at the Cabin explores the idea of sacrifice through tight tension and dark themes.
Knock at the Cabin wastes no time in establishing tension and determining the stakes in its cold open. The moment that Leonard (Dave Bautista) meets Wen, it is already established that something terrible is about to happen. Through his apprehensive body language and cryptic messages, Wen is put on edge, scrambling to the cabin towards the protection of her dads. Knock at the Cabin milks the tension beyond standard home invasion fare by adding the character dilemmas of all the major players.
Time passes, and each decision made by the family increases the desperation of their invaders to relay their message with varying success. Andrew is sternly against any action that threatens his family and is virulently against humoring their uninvited guests. We learn through clunky flashbacks that he has battled religious trauma, unaccepting parents, and hate crimes leading him to this thought process. Eric, on the other hand, is more receptive and slowly comes to terms with the reality of their situation and the possibilities of what their inaction may be. This becomes the crux of the final act, as the fathers battle on the merits of the warning and if the world is even worth saving if the four extremists are legitimate.
Wrestling with dark themes of sacrifice, trauma, and the cruelty of humanity, Knock at the Cabin makes a middling statement about queer love. While explaining away evidence and plotting various attempts at escaping, Eric and Andrew attempt to understand the motivations of their invaders. As the group emphatically tries to convince the family, Andrew pushes back the hardest. His distrust is fair. His life was difficult thanks to those who believed him to be lesser for his sexual orientation and he suffered a great deal of emotional and physical pain from those who used religion to hurt people. He now views the four prophets holding them hostage similarly.
Eric and Andrew represent two very different approaches to life. While Andrew is cynical, guarded, and fiercely protective of his family, going as far to find every way to shield them from the terror that these people represent to him and the direct threat they cast upon his loved one’s lives. Eric approaches sacrifice in a different way. His life has been relatively easy compared to Andrew, and he thinks about Wen’s future beyond everything else. To him, humanity is reflected in the potential of Wen rather than their survival as a family unit. What would life mean if only Andrew, Wen, and himself lived out their days without anyone else?
Criticism has been launched at the film for supposedly failing to subvert the ‘bury your gays’ trope, which is unfounded. The trope states that gay characters are killed in a way that determines their lives are more expendable than their heterosexual counterparts. At several points in Knock at the Cabin, it is alluded or theorized by characters that this choice has been made by families for centuries.
When Eric and Andrew ask why they have been chosen, Leonard responds by stating that their family’s love is so powerful and that is why they must choose and that they had no clue what family would be waiting for them when they arrived at the cabin. This signals that it is expected that any character, heterosexual or otherwise could be forced to make this choice. In fact, it canonizes the idea that many in the past have, and that they all chose sacrifice to preserve humanity for Eric, Andrew, and Wen to make that decision themselves one day.
While a thoroughly engaging watch Knock at the Cabin doesn’t punch hard enough in its execution. The script loses its tension as it nears the end, once the idea of the apocalypse is given more credence. Its stakes never changes but the audience knows which way the film will lean without much effort. By solving the mystery early on, it makes it difficult to stay fully invested in the choices the characters inevitably make. Strong performances from the stellar cast cannot take away the goofiness from certain lines or mediocre visual effects work. It only distracts a little bit from the overall experience.
Tight filmmaking, impressive performances, and a provocative concept make Knock at the Cabin an engaging horror thriller. While the mystery is egregiously thinned out early on, the implications of every action make it a solid exercise in tension. An excellent cast grounds the sillier ideas within the script, but it is M Night Shyamalan’s strong direction that keeps the film exciting and fun despite diverging from the source material in Paul Tremblay’s ‘Cabin at the End of the World’. Fans of Shyamalan’s work and those who appreciate bigger and better representation of queer characters will find plenty to love about Knock at the Cabin, if they choose to watch, of course.
Overall Score? 7/10