The Bottom Line on M. Night Shyamalan’s Latest: It’s Fun

‘Knock at the Cabin’ is spectacularly entertaining, particularly if you’re in the mood to forgive some well-trod dramatic ground.

Via Universal Pictures
David Bautista as Leonard in ‘Knock at the Cabin.’ Via Universal Pictures

David Bautista is one big guy. Those who aren’t followers of professional wrestling or the MCU — that would be the Marvel Comics Universe — will likely be taken aback by the formidable figure Mr. Bautista cuts in “Knock at the Cabin,” the latest effort from writer and director M. Night Shyamalan. 

Forget for a moment Mr. Shyamalan’s fondness for extreme close-ups. Even when viewed from a distance — which is how the audience first encounters Leonard, Mr. Bautista’s character — the actor appears not only larger than life, but somehow bigger than the forest in which he’s ensconced. With his bulky muscles, furrowed pate, and the sheer expanse of real estate he encompasses, how could Mr. Bautista not dominate the screen?

He dominates for another reason: Mr. Bautista is a pretty good actor. Notwithstanding a plot in which the fate of billions of lives stand in the balance, “Knock at the Cabin” is a chamber piece composed of seven characters. As a result, each member of the cast carries a significant amount of dramatic weight — and they do, but not like Mr. Bautista.

Who is Leonard? He’s an elaborately tattooed coach of a high school girls basketball team, a gentle soul given to measured statements, an overriding sense of duty, and charitable impulses. Oh, and he’s one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Leonard is, in fact, their leader; it’s a position he doesn’t take lightly.

We initially meet Leonard when he comes upon Wen (Kristen Cui), an 8-year-old girl collecting grasshoppers in a jar. She’s vacationing in rural Pennsylvania with her two dads, Eric (Jonathan Groff) and Andrew (Ben Aldridge). Mr. Shyamalan accentuates the radically dissimilar physiques of Mr. Bautista and Ms. Cui, all the while paying homage to the scene in James Whale’s “Frankenstein” (1931) wherein Boris Karloff’s misunderstood monster encounters a little girl.

Fans of that movie know that the tête-à-tête between Dr. Frankenstein’s creation and “Little Maria” didn’t come to a happy resolution. Neither does Leonard’s meeting with Wen, though it does take a different trajectory. When Leonard and his three associates, each of whom wields a jerry-rigged weapon of one sort or another, come knocking at the cabin door of our happy vacationers — well, there’s hell to pay.

A sacrifice must be made, Leonard tells Andrew, Eric, and Wen. One of them must die by the other’s hand in order to stave off a run of plagues and, ultimately, the end of life on earth. Leonard’s comrades in this venture include a nurse (Nikki Amuka-Bird), a single mother (Abby Quinn), and a grizzled young man in need of anger management (Rupert Grint). Each has experienced visions of global collapse and been summoned to this particular location at this particular time to set things right.

Just who or what has done the summoning is unclear. Working from the novel “The Cabin at the End of the World” by Paul Tremblay, Mr. Shyamalan, who adapted the screenplay along with Steve Desmond and Michael Sherman, doesn’t bother much with rationales. Given how quickly this film gets up and running, it doesn’t much need them. Like “The Birds,” Alfred Hitchcock’s 1963 thriller, “Knock at the Cabin” cruises on an almost mythic sense of cosmic dread — logic, however unlikely or strained, be damned.

Anyone who skims the trade papers will know that a lot of peculiar adjectives have been foisted on Mr. Shyamalan over the years, chief among them “polarizing.” That’s what happens, I guess, when you come fresh out of the gate with something as perfectly realized as “Sixth Sense” (1999). Inevitably, there’s a nagging feeling that anything else an auteur puts his hand to will fall short. 

How polarizing Mr. Shyamalan’s most recent effort might be is something to be mooted by finer minds. In the meantime, his new picture is great fun. Yes, fun: Notwithstanding its raft of existential choices, world catastrophes, and adroitly sidelined violence, “Knock at the Cabin” is spectacularly entertaining, particularly if you’re in the mood to forgive some well-trod dramatic ground. 

Eerie, outrageous, funny, and righteous in all the proper doses, “Knock at the Cabin” is handsomely mounted, well-acted, and, with Mr. Bautista at its core, endowed with more heart than you’d expect from this kind of genre exercise.

The New York Sun

© 2024 The New York Sun Company, LLC. All rights reserved.

Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. The material on this site is protected by copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, cached or otherwise used.

The New York Sun

Sign in or  create a free account

By continuing you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use