Knock at the Cabin

Knock at the Cabin – is Shyamalan a survivor or an innovator?

Knock at the Cabin is available to stream, rent or buy.

Before entering the cinema for Knock at the Cabin, I was intrigued by the premise. Here we find Husbands, Andrew and Eric (Ben Aldridge and Jonathan Groff) and their daughter, Wen (Kristen Cui), enjoying a holiday in a remote woodland cabin before being taken hostage by four strangers. Queer families rarely get the opportunity to take centre stage in cinema. In the rare moments they do, there’s historically been a limited selection of cards in the deck. From mainstream comedies like The Birdcage to more aspirational indie efforts like The Kids Are All Right, there’s a disproportionate amount of time and effort placed in attempting to reassure straight audiences that there’s no need to feel “threatened” by these queer families.

However, Knock at the Cabin shows the family threatened by malevolent forces holding their own agenda. Here we catch a couple of glimpses of Wen’s adoption story through flashbacks. But ultimately, they’re included to establish what’s at stake for Eric and Andrew rather than to hold audiences’ hands through a step-by-step explanation of the process.

Once Andrew and Eric are tied up, the four strangers introduce and explain themselves and their visions of a coming apocalypse. While none of them no each other, they know that this vision can only be prevented if one family member is offered as a human sacrifice. Leonard (Dave Bautista), the group’s de facto leader, insists that it’s pure coincidence that it’s a gay family unit that must suffer for the sake of humanity. This speaks more to a metatextual issue shared by the film and its source material, the 2018 novel The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay. Placing a straight couple in this scenario would see audiences defaulting toward the Dad being the one to sacrifice himself. Society tends to view men as expendable, whereas women are presumed to have a kind of innate fragility that must be protected at all costs. Having two dads in peril ought to level the playing field enough to sustain the audience’s interest without the setup feeling played out before it starts.

In practice, however, Shyamalan doesn’t seem particularly interested in exploring the contours of the premise. Leonard and the other intruders – played by Nikki Amuka-Bird, Abby Quinn and Rupert Grint – monologue at length on the need to accept the existence of some greater force at work and the virtue of sacrifice. But not one can deliver a compelling argument for why Andrew, Eric and Wen should sacrifice their happiness in a world that’s proved so hostile towards them. In the end, the resolution that is eventually offered by the narrative smacks of a focus group.

If the film is likely to benefit anyone, it’ll be Dave Bautista. His ever-so-slightly stilted delivery style prevents him from falling foul of Shyamalan’s often off-kilter dialogue. While not a breakout performance in the true sense of the words, it marks a new phase in his career after his earlier supporting roles in Guardians of the Galaxy and Glass Onion.

As for Shyamalan, people have been chewing over where Knock at the Cabin falls in relation to Old and other films in this post-After Earth bounce-back. If anything, Knock at the Cabin proves Shyamalan is a survivor, not an innovator. His films are informed by a vaguely monotheistic and often eschatological brand of spirituality that flatters a conservative American mindset. Even if he isn’t consciously trying to appeal to that demographic, this aspect of his films means that they only push beyond the limits of what those audiences would be willing to tolerate.


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