“Why is your heart broken?”
“Because of what I have to do today.”
Knock at the Cabin is a 2023 film from Universal Pictures produced, written, and directed by M. Night Shyamalan based on the award-winning 2018 novel, The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay. The movie has a small cast featuring Dave Bautista, Rupert Grint, Jonathan Groff, Abby Quinn, Nikki Amunka-Bird, Ben Aldridge, and Kristen Cui.
Andrew (Aldridge) and Eric (Groff) are vacationing in a rented, luxuriously appointed cabin deep in the woods with their adopted daughter, Wen (Cui). One beautiful afternoon, while collecting and cataloging grasshoppers in a clearing, young Wen is startled to see a (very) large man approach her. He introduces himself as Leonard (Bautista). Wen is loath to talk to him at first on account of her fathers’ warning her about talking to strangers. Leonard works his way around this by offering to let her get to know him better so that they won’t be strangers anymore. He tells that he’s a teacher and a coach and about how unhappy he is with what must come next but that his friends and he have come a very long way and they’re here to save the world. Wen’s suspicions tumble into terror as she sees three other figures make their way through the undergrowth bearing cumbersome, jury-rigged, long-handled weapons and she bolts inside, locking the front door behind her.
Eric and Andrew are lounging on the back deck as Wen drags them back into the cabin, explaining the situation in a panic. The two are skeptical until Leonard knocks ominously and asks to enter. The other three introduce themselves through the door. Sabrina (Amunka-Bird) tells them she is a nurse. Adriane (Quinn) begs the family to let them in. Redmond (Grint) roars that they don’t have time for this bullshit. Leonard restrains him and reiterates that they’re here to save the world.
Andrew and Eric politely refuse, leading the four to spread out to the flanks and break into the cabin from the rear, the sides, and up through the basement. As they breach, Eric falls and smashes his head on the floor. Andrew realizes that Leonard has Wen and Eric is helpless, leading him to surrender.
The intruders tie the pair to chairs, and Sabrina addresses Eric’s injuries. She swiftly determines that he’s concussed and tries to treat him as well as she’s able, cleaning and bandaging his wound while Leonard explains that the four of them have come to offer Andrew, Eric, and Wen the chance to make a choice. This choice is the most important question they will ever be asked and the most important decision they will ever make. The world- the entire world depends on their answer: One of the three must willingly volunteer to sacrifice themselves or a series of cataclysmic events will ensue, building up to a veritable, full-blown, biblical apocalypse. One of them must choose to die so that everyone on Earth can live.
The frantic family believes they’ve been captured by gay-bashing, whackaloon cultists. Andrew and Eric tell the interlopers that their story is some crazy shit, but their panic escalates as Redmond pulls a pure, white mask over his head and gets to his knees before the two bound men. In turn, each of the other intruders smashes their improvised polearms into Redmond’s skull, killing him. Leonard puts the news on the flatscreen, where reports of huge earthquakes deep on the ocean floor have sent tsunamis racing towards the west coast of the United States. Footage of skyscraper-sized waves stretching across the horizon and looming above a shadowed beach with hundreds of tiny, screaming people fleeing pointlessly is abruptly cut off as the cliffs of water crush down on the camera, drowning it in blue.
Trembling, Adriane tells them she’s seen that play out exactly in her dreams; Sabrina remarks that they know what’s coming next; Leonard says his dreams had the waves too, and that he’s heard all of that plaintive wailing too many times. He points out that Redmond’s death can only delay the apocalypse. He warns them that the family must still make the choice and that the fate of humanity is in their hands.
Can Eric, Andrew, and Wen escape? Are Leonard and his friends crazy people or crazy people? Are they actually trying to help save humanity? Can they? Should they? Will the world keep on spinning if the family makes the right call? Is there a right call? Will Wen ever be able to get back to her grasshoppers? See Knock at the Cabin and find out.
The structure of this movie is sound. It’s well shot, beautifully lit and well directed though after ratcheting up a good bit of tension, Shyamalan has a habit of cutting away from his gore. With some splendid performances most notably from Dave Bautista and Kristen Cui, Knock at the Cabin is an entertaining bit of derivative horror fluff if you don’t give the movie much thought. Unfortunately, if under any sustained scrutiny, its issues become thorny.
There is some very interesting symbolism being used with Wen’s grasshoppers. She’s working on an unexplained project, plucking the insects from their habitats and placing them in a jar with other grasshoppers from different parts of the forest as she logs her observations. While in the jar, what would the bugs talk about? How would they make sense of their experience, so far removed from normal grasshopper stuff? If they got out, how would they explain what happened to other grasshoppers? Would the other grasshoppers understand them? Could they? The four well-meaning, murderous trespassers are the grasshoppers, plucked from their mundane lives by a mysterious force and driven to do this seemingly antagonistic assignment; the prophetic dreams they have in common driving them forward are akin to the insects’ shared experience of the jar (that no other bug can or will believe).
The cabin has got to be the nicest, fanciest, largest cabin as cabins go, especially cabins in horror films. What is shown of the spacious, immaculately tiled bathroom, gigantic flatscreen in the den, and the overstuffed, floor-to-ceiling bookshelf plus the glass wall leading to the deck makes it more of a nudge-nudge, wink-wink, “cabin”, but that’s ok.
This M. Night Shyamalan movie is what you would get if Ursula K. Le Guin’s award-winning 1973 short story, The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas, and Drew Goddard’s 2011 film, The Cabin in the Woods had a really ugly baby. While the setting is far removed from the beautiful, bountiful utopia that is Omelas, the moral quandary at the heart of Le Guin’s classic tale remains: What is a good price to pay for paradise? Could you go along with knowing that a person would suffer horribly if that meant guaranteeing the comfort and safety of others? What if you were personally responsible for that decision? Do the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one?
Speaking of “the needs of the many,” Star Trek: Brave New Worlds did an (uncredited) homage to Le Guin. In this reviewer’s opinion, even that much-maligned episode, Lift Us Where Suffering Cannot Reach, which was a thinly- veiled pastiche of the Omelas scenario, handled that dilemma with more aplomb in comparison to Knock at the Cabin.
Shyamalan is somewhat late to the dance, but Knock at the Cabin starts out firmly in the vein of the Horrible Home Invasion genre, following in the footsteps of films like 2007’s Funny Games remake, 2008’s The Strangers, 2011’s You’re Next, 2013’s The Purge, 2019’s Us and many (many) others. Then the picture veers into an abrupt, screeching left turn into existential, Lovecraftian terror where characters are meant to tremble before the Great Old Ones while possibly being driven insane in the face of human insignificance and some mind-melting cosmic quandary.
This reviewer is very irritated with the theological architecture Knock at the Cabin establishes. It is stated that this choice has been forced upon lovers and loved ones over and over again down through the centuries. The dreamers don’t say how often the choice happens, only that it’s been made repeatedly throughout human history. The idea that there is a supreme being that presents this type of reoccurring choice to its creations is beyond disturbing. What kind of chessboard-kicking, toy-burning, sandcastle-stomping, petty-ass, desperately needy deity is minding the shop in this dimension? The universe in this film is run by a kid amusing himself by burning ants with a magnifying glass writ large. The god of Knock at the Cabin is more childish than Star Trek’s Trelane and more eager to observe pain than a Cenobite from the Hellraiser series. (Not gonna lie, the scene with all of the planes falling out of the sky one after another after another like raindrops in a squall was so absurdly over the top it had this reviewer cackling a bit.) This god is an asshole.
The thing is, Omelas is a utopia. Eric, Andrew, and Wen aren’t being asked to save a utopia, they’re being asked to save their crappy, broken-down world, a world where not too long ago, Redmond had tried to murder Andrew for being a gay man talking in public. Their crappy, broken-down world is just like our crappy broken-down world and after watching millions die on TV in their cabin for some capricious cosmic entity’s entertainment, you’d think they’d have to say “Fuck it.”
Knock at the Cabin is in theatres now.