By Isaac Woolley, MSc, Public Policy
Perhaps one of the most curious careers in Hollywood is that of director M. Night Shyamalan, after ruling the Hollywood roost with classics like The Sixth Sense (1999) and Unbreakable (2000), he suffered a fall from grace, releasing critical disasters such as The Happening (2008) and The Last Airbender (2010). Undeterred, he has continued to release a new film every few years, finally clawing back some critical praise with Split (2016).
But can this latest effort resist his penchant for writing ponderous and boring screenplays? Unlike him, I won’t withhold the twisted answer: no.
In this film, Leonard (Dave Bautista) leads a group of people who invade the holiday cabin of a family of three. They tell the family they must choose one family member to sacrifice to prevent the apocalypse. Thus follows a drama contained solely within this cabin in the woods.
Leonard’s cohort is humanised early on; they are not there to harm the family and are reluctant to carry out violent acts. Leonard, despite his physical presence, reveals he is a schoolteacher in an attempt to befriend the family and avoid scaring them.
Former WWE wrestler Dave Bautista can seemingly do no wrong since his breakout role as Drax in Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), and this film is no exception.
He compellingly portrays the role of a gentle giant, forced to act against his good nature in service of the greater good. His physicality and unique appearance lend his character a special kind of strangeness which works in the film’s favour from his first introduction.
Sadly, the film squanders the initial intrigue. Events trundle onwards with repetitive arguments between the characters about why this family was selected, whether the forewarned apocalypse is truly happening, and whether the family would be willing to make the sacrifice even if this was the case.
If you were hoping the film would do something clever or interesting with any of these questions, it does not. A series of indulgent flashbacks only serve to drag out the screen time and fail to introduce any new secrets or twists.
Knock at the Cabin is further undermined by poor directing choices. There are some comically bad depictions of the apocalypse unfolding live on the news, which are executed with crummy special effects and no attempt to alter the cinematography to look like believable news footage (instead they look like film scenes played on a TV). The TV’s importance in the plot as the characters’ only evidence of an unfolding apocalypse makes the film hard to take seriously at points.
Shyamalan worsens the situation by cameoing on a teleshopping programme before an apocalyptic news report, rather than being funny, it sacrifices dramatic tension for the sake of having the director appear in his own film.
This example makes me question whether the man purposefully sabotages his films as part of a scheme to become a living meme because if it were, it would make more sense than this.
Perhaps this story, which is based on a 2018 horror novel, The Cabin at the End of the World, is more compelling in book form than as a feature film. Either way, it’s another Shyamalan project which misses the mark.
Featured image: Courtesy of IMDB
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