Moviegoers beware! M. Night Shyamalan has made a new film about ‘The Times We Live In,' and it is about as sensitive and well thought out as we’ve come to expect from him.
Usually there’s something to be said for media that throws everyone under the bus (and a few co-writers in this case), but it’s usually an intentional attempt at some kind of equalizing. With Shyamalan’s latest, it’s merely an unfortunate byproduct of truly terrible story execution, even for him.
There’s at least some novelty in this attempt at a twist to a home invasion thriller, as we’re also meant to sympathize with the other side of the situation after a family picks the wrong cabin in the woods to vacation in. Finding Dave Bautista completely unlikable is rather like attempting to root against Dwayne Johnson, but it’s a rare burglar who makes a point of introducing himself to the cute little girl before he attacks her dads.
Anyone who says they’re there to make friends is inherently suspicious, and Wen (Kristen Cui) the cute little girl in question, barely has time to warn her parents Eric (Jonathan Groff) and Andrew (Ben Aldridge) before they experience the world’s most polite break in. Once Bautista and his three companions Sabrina (Nikki Amuka-Bird), Ardiane (Abby Quinn), and Redmond (Rupert Grint) subdue the family and clean up the mess they made in the process (really) they tell them why they’ve come.
Don't Be Left Behind
In a nutshell? These four polite, seemingly normal people have all been experiencing visions of the end of the world. This led them to this particular cabin, which they were aware would contain a family, exact identities and makeup unknown. But these prophets are here to convince the family that they must make a choice to kill one family member in order for the apocalypse to be averted. If someone else kills them or they manage to escape, or if they simply refuse to participate, then the rest of the world dies, with the three of them doomed to survive and wander the Earth alone.
Eric and Andrew are naturally as skeptical as they are frightened, with Andrew especially attempting to convince the now hostage-takers that they are under a group delusion. This gets to be a tougher and tougher sell when the four manage to skirt the no cell phone rule and put on TV news reports of mass death events happening all around the world that each obvious stand-in for the Four Horsemen is able to bring about, allegedly. Yet this mostly bloodless picture of humanity being judged by a coldly observing god who views us all as an equally anonymous mass of insects is actually a very nauseating portrait of just who is disposable in our supposedly enlightened era.
Together, the ex-con, the nurse, the line cook, and the teacher each comprise cross sections of modern humanity that were publicly left to fend for themselves as the pandemic brought out the cracks in an already shambling system. The bloody ends met are appropriately indicative of who is deemed to be the most useful, and Sabrina’s death especially highlights the appalling insensitivity of it all. Obviously, would-be saviors Eric and Andrew bring a history of systemic dehumanization all their own, and it is the so-called purity of the love they’ve found in spite of that history that is supposedly the ultimate sacrifice that will prevent mass slaughter.
Sacrificial Lambs to the Slaughter
To call this cringe would do an injustice to the fanatical injustice itself on display in Knock at the Cabin, which has roots in real-world events which need no higher or lower powers to turn to. The real shock is that a movie that’s supposedly all about how gay love can save the world, with its central duo played by gay actors, is how very straight it all plays out.
Knock refuses to explore the implications of its own philosophy or history, with no mention of how the religious values it embraces and espouses have left their own trails of blood, with a body count that includes every letter of the LGTBQ community. As for Eric and Andrew, they never display any kind of physical affection that would risk discomfort, and they show the kind of self-involved concern which is unable to extend itself to anyone beyond their family, coming off as everything unlikable in our own best impulses.
The results of such a failure to interrogate are predictable enough. Lack of depth typically doesn’t translate to great storytelling, and by the time it all finally plays out, it’s a relief to get away from every tired, worn out trope this very talented ensemble attempts to make as entertaining as possible. Bautista is the standout, a perfect match to Shyamalan’s clunky dialogue and closeups, expertly playing the gentle giant burdened with a fanaticism he believes is a necessity.
As for any lingering hope, that’ll be snuffed out by a casual perusal of Shyamalan’s IMDb credits and its long history of critical and commercial disappointments…and two upcoming directorial projects in the works. This cabin may not be at all scary or suspenseful, but that’s enough to make anyone run away from the theater screaming.
Grade: 1/10 SPECS
Knock at the Cabin opens in theaters Friday February 4th.
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This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.
Andrea Thompson is a writer, editor, and film critic who is also the founder and director of the Film Girl Film Festival.
She is a member of the Chicago Indie Critics and runs her own site, A Reel Of One's Own, and has written for RogerEbert.com, The Spool, The Mary Sue, Inverse, and The Chicago Reader. She has no intention of becoming any less obsessed with cinema, comics, or nerdom in general.