It's the End of the World as We Know It: Knock at the Cabin (2023) - Reviewed

Photos courtesy of Universal Pictures
We live in uncertain times right now. Pandemics, climate change, and an unstable economy. Humanity flirts with the apocalypse, dipping its toe into the murky darkness. What if we could somehow save ourselves? Do the needs of the many outweigh the few? M. Night Shyamalan asks and answers these questions in Knock at the Cabin (2023), his newest film based on the 2018 novel The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul G. Tremblay.

A small family is taking a vacation at a secluded cabin. Couple Eric (Johnathan Groff) and Andrew (Ben Aldridge) and their young adopted daughter Wen (Kristen Cui). Their idyllic stay is interrupted by loud and urgent knocks on their front door. Four strangers stand on their porch: Leonard (Dave Bautista), Sabrina (Nikki Amuka-Bird), Adriane (Abby Quinn), and Redmond (Rupert Grint). These individuals come from all walks of life, but a single purpose unites them; avert an upcoming apocalypse that will destroy all humanity on earth. The price for salvation is high, however, and they ask the family to make an excruciating choice.

The film doesn’t spend much time on the set-up of the concept, and it jumps right into the conflict. It starts as a home invasion narrative but quickly transitions into something much grander in scope though the majority takes place inside the cabin. One might expect something more brutal, like Funny Games (1997), but M. Night isn’t as openly hostile towards the audience as that film and imparts the tone with something more contemplative and, sometimes, even Biblical. The implications of the world's fate are slowly revealed over the runtime, and the tension is continually ramped up. 

This tension is occasionally relieved by cleverly placed flashbacks that give backstory to the family members and adds some needed character development. The clunkiest aspect is that much of the exposition is conveyed through news reports on television, which almost always come off as contrived. It doesn’t quite work in Knock at the Cabin either and is the weakest aspect of the story. Dave Bautista especially is fantastic in his role as a Kindergarten teacher who is forced into a position he doesn’t want to take and adds sadness and empathy to the character.

M. Night seems to do better with more confined stories, as this allows his strengths to shine. His deliberate style of dialogue and penchant for close-ups and static shots complement the claustrophobic feel of the story perfectly. Cinematographer Jarin Blaschke, most famous for his work on Robert Eggers’ The Lighthouse (2019), sets up beautiful shots, using reflections and thoughtful camera angles to break up the cabin's interior. M. Night also used vintage ‘90s cameras to give the movie a nostalgic feel, and it’s always nice to see something shot on film in this day and age.

Knock at the Cabin loses a bit of steam in the third act, and it also suffers from some less than convincing CGI, but overall it’s a compelling and earnest film about those who stand in the face of destruction and make the sacrifices needed to save us all.

--Michelle Kisner