Nothing is better than spending the last day of the world with family, as happens for the protagonists of M. Night Shyamalan‘s latest movie, Knock at the Cabin, released in theaters in early 2023.
It begins in a small isolated cabin in the woods, where a little girl is on vacation with her two adoptive fathers.
While she is strolling quietly in the pristine green nature catching some crickets, a giant man emerges from the trees and walks toward her.
Initially, she fears the stranger, yet this man’s kind and curious manner partially calms her down.
This moment is short-lived because she soon realizes he is not there by accident; instead, he explicitly looks for her family.
Moreover, he is not alone because two other women and a man appear from the forest wielding weapons.
The girl then runs inside the house to warn her parents to barricade the house, although everything is futile.
Indeed, although they try to resist, the strangers still break in and immobilize them to chairs.
However, they do not seem intent on harming them, at least not directly.
The giant man explains this group has only recently joined, and they had never seen each other before, except by talking together in online chats.
Each of these four invaders had the same visions about an impending apocalypse, which they think can stop with their help.
The price to be paid is very high because to prevent the world’s end, one among them will have to voluntarily kill a family member.
Of course, his fathers refuse to do so, trying to make these people understand they are suffering from a collective paranoid attack.
The four strangers, however, are unwilling to accept arguments while they learn from TV that strange tragedies are suddenly happening worldwide.
A director both loved and hated
M. Night Shyamalan is undoubtedly an exceptional director, not only in visual and narrative style but also in the growing gift of dividing public opinion.
Although his early films, The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, were widely acclaimed by all almost unanimously, from Signs onward, everything changed forever.
Somehow this escalation reminds me of Quentin Tarantino‘s career, which everyone was enthusiastic about in the beginning with Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, initiating the first clashes only after Jackie Brown.
The difference is that regarding Tarantino, I can’t think of a single one of his movies that I didn’t like or to which I can (or would) provide significant criticism.
Unfortunately, Shyamalan has undeniably committed a few missteps, such as in The Last Airbender or The Happening, which he could definitely accomplish better.
Yet even these bad movies always have good basic ideas despite everything, proving the talent underneath was still there and was just wrongly put to use.
Since After Earth, yet another cinematic and commercial failure, Shyamalan finally got back on track by letting go of billion-dollar productions.
Returning to a smaller, more personal kind of cinema consisting of storytelling and characters, the director found his peace by starting to do his best again.
Of course, by now, the rift in the audience is irremediable, there is no going back, and many say that even these new movies suck, including Knock at the Cabin in 2023.
Instead, it is an excellent follow-up to the director’s well-known horror/fantasy poetics, as it was also for 2021’s wonderful Old, which I had previously recommended.
Shyamalan picks up the formula by starting with a small family group and then broadening the horizon, even taking the story to an apocalyptic level.
But how do these characters work?
Objectively, a great little movie
Whatever you think about M. Night Shyamalan‘s movies, at least no one can say he can’t bring out performances from actors they have rarely done before.
Among the excellent cast of this 2023 movie, the one who most excited me is undoubtedly Dave Bautista, surely the most famous star of Knock at the Cabin.
The actor keeps proving he is not just a giant pile of muscle, as, for example, he did in the short-lived role of Blade Runner 2049, where he was able to be very intense and dramatic in just a few minutes.
In this case, his performance is even more tempered, with a constant positive and calm demeanor being a delightful contrast to a violent situation.
This is not to say that the other characters are trivial; on the contrary, they form a well-rounded pack of unusual apocalypse knights.
However, again the director handles both actors exceptionally well, creating an intriguing psychological dynamic that maintains good believability, despite the borderline circumstances we see in this story.
On the other hand, I was a bit disappointed by how he employs the talented little Kristen Cui, giving her excellent relevance in the beginning for a character who then becomes almost marginal in the second half, especially as we approach the inevitable final climax.
However, these are minor flaws in a movie that left me largely satisfied when I left the theater, noting, as usual, bitter debates among the audience.