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Knock at the Cabin (2023)

So I just saw Knock at the Cabin and it was… alright. A solid 2/4 movie. All of the strictures of late-period Shyamalan (which at this point is his entire career post-Unbreakable, save maybe a couple of relatively bright spots) apply, but softened, probably by the fact that he’s working with stronger source material than usual. Not just a middling graphic novel or the bedtime stories that he tells his kids.

The story is that a well-to-do gay couple is holidaying at a cabin-in-the-woods with their adopted daughter when a quartet led by Dave Bautista invade and tells them that unless they make a terrible choice, the world will end.

The idea of doomsaying, Old Testament faith interacting with the modern world has been done before, notably in one of my favourite horror films, Frailty, which starred Bill Paxton as a gentle single father who’s plagued with visions of people’s sins and comes to believe that he’s an angel of death. As with Dave Bautista, the character that Paxton plays is an average and decent man forced to do terrible things, possibly by mental sickness, possibly by divine smite. If you haven’t seen Frailty, I’d recommend it over Cabin any day, as its characterisation and themes are much richer and more disturbing.

One of the strictures of M Night Shyamalan is clunky, expository, and just unnatural sounding dialogue. It’s not enough, say, for a character to reveal over time and in small details that they come from X place, served time in jail, and had an abusive father. They have to clear their throat like a child giving a recital and say: ‘I come from here. I was in prison. My dad beat me.’

Bautista isn’t a bad actor at all and with the right director could have been truly disturbing here, but some of his dialogue sounds like tinnitus. Even then he sells the character fairly well, though, if only by dint of his imposing presence.

Some of the plotting is pretty atrocious, like when one of the two dads has a gun but decides to make only stupid decisions once he has the upper hand. Footage of apocalyptic disasters on television feels fake in that very Shyamalan way where he’s trying to make something look authentic but doesn’t seem to have considered any of the details. It’s not as bad as the “cellphone footage” of a guy sacrificing himself to lions in The Happening, but it would make a YouTube commenter cry “fake… and gay.”

Interestingly, at one point one of the two dads comes up with a non-supernatural theory as to why Bautista and crew are terrorising them, and it’s honestly a hell of a lot more intriguing as a story idea than what ends up happening. Like how Rosemary’s Baby is more intriguing if you imagine that the Satanists are just a bunch of crazy people. The idea would also give the presence of a gay couple a thematic reason. Not that you need a thematic reason to put gay people in a story, of course, but given the film’s continual referral to homophobia in the men’s lives anyway, it would have been dramatically meatier as the main course rather than a red herring.

As it is, the gay couple feels like more of an idea than characters. This is a very PG-13 horror movie anyway, all of the violence cut away from just at the point where it would edge into R territory. So of course the couple doesn’t kiss and are presented in that very restrained, strait-laced way where they probably just look meaningfully at each other at night and haven’t even glimpsed each other’s pale bits.

So, yeah, it’s alright. The directing is competent if uninteresting (it feels like a TV movie), the premise is good, and it’s reasonably well-paced and acted. It held my gaze.


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