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  • Writer's pictureBen Turner

Knock At The Cabin ***

Starring: Jonathan Groff, Ben Aldridge, Dave Bautista, Rupert Grint, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Kristen Cui

Director: M. Night Shyamalan

Country: USA

Director M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense, The Village) has long been Hollywood’s godfather of horror. Having focused on the small screen more recently with Apple TV's Servant, he has finally made his long-awaited return to cinema with captivity-sci-fi-thriller Knock At The Cabin with his usual flair for vivid characters and ambitious plots.

Couple Eric (Groff - Hamilton, Looking) and Ben (Aldridge - Fleabag) are staying at a cabin in the woods with their daughter (Cui). Their holiday is interrupted when a group of armed strangers, led by Leonard (Bautista - Guardians Of The Galaxy, Blade Runner), demand that they make a choice that could prevent the oncoming apocalypse. However the invaders are a disparate group of strangers; ordinary people brought together by mysterious visions about the upcoming end of the world. But can they convince this young family to make the ultimate sacrifice to save the world?

Shyamalan plunges us straight into the action, choosing to drip-feed the family’s backstory through fleeting flashbacks. Subsequently the entire narrative occurs within the confines of the titular cabin. At times this feels successfully claustrophobic, reminiscent of The Strangers or 10 Cloverfield Lane, but as we learn more about the global crisis brewing around them, the film stumbles over the magnitude of its own ideas.

News reports are used as our window to the outside world, becoming progressively more important to the plot. Except these reports feel tremendously expositional and contrived. Anyone who’s ever watched major news breaking on TV will know that information is never neatly packaged, but yet to serve the narrative here, these have been tightly and concisely presented, the result of which is wooden and unrealistic. And that's a problem for a film that needs us to believe the unbeievable.

Though tense at times, the film bashfully cuts away at all the gory moments. It also finds in Bautista a charming and likeable villain, meaning that the threat-level doesn't quite get us to the edge of our seats. And as the victims question the reality of this situation, the bigger question for the narrative - why this family has been chosen in the first place - is never successfully addressed, bar a cursory line in the final act. Shyamalan is so focused on the central choice that his characters are being forced to make that the exposition unusually falls to the wayside.

And then there's the actual crux of the plot itself. A same-sex couple with a child are forced to choose one of them to die in order to save the world. Let's rephrase that. Only the destruction of a gay couple and their family can prevent the apocalypse. Almost as though gay adoption is what caused the apocalypse in the first place. Leonard goes to great pains to emphasise that the reason they have been chosen isn't homophobic, but you can't help but wonder... On some deeper level, somewhere... Isn't it, though?

Overall, this is pretty typical Shyamalan pulp fiction. An ambitious idea that doesn't quite deliver, you'll buy into its premise only to find holes that a stronger screenwriter could easily have plugged. And though its cast behave like they're in a better film, Knock At The Cabin isn't greater than the sum of its parts.

UK Release: Out now in cinemas, released by Universal Pictures


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