Review: Knock at the Cabin by M Night Shayamalan

04 September 2023
"Knock at the Cabin" is a 2023 mystery and thriller drama directed by M. Night Shyamalan, a filmmaker renowned for his psychological thrillers like "The Sixth Sense" and "Signs." Adapted from a novel of the same name, the film aims to explore complex moral dilemmas within the framework of a home-invasion thriller. Released on February 3, 2023, the film has garnered a modest box office performance, accumulating $35.4 million in the United States, a figure that pales in comparison to Shyamalan's previous blockbusters.

Set in a remote cabin, the film centers around a young girl and her parents. Their idyllic vacation takes a dark turn when they are invaded by four armed strangers. These intruders present the family with an unthinkable moral choice: make a sacrifice within the family to prevent an apocalyptic event. The tension escalates as the family grapples with the decision, making it a suspenseful watch, albeit one that leaves audiences with more questions than answers.

Knock at the Cabin takes a bold step by featuring a diverse cast that includes a gay couple, Eric (Jonathan Groff) and Andrew (Ben Aldridge), and their adopted Chinese American daughter, Wen (Kristen Cui). This is a significant departure from the traditional thriller genre, which often leans into stereotypes. The film also includes a diverse set of intruders, ranging from a second-grade teacher to a nurse, defying the usual tropes associated with villains in home-invasion thrillers.

However, the film has been criticized for not fully realizing these characters. According to Variety's review, the characters don't resemble any "single human" the reviewer has ever met, suggesting that they feel more like tokens than authentic individuals. The film also misses an opportunity to delve into the complexities and nuances of a non-traditional family in a high-stakes situation. For example, the gay couple in the film doesn't show any physical affection, which critics argue makes them appear "sexless," thereby missing an opportunity for authentic representation.

Moreover, the film's flashbacks reveal that the world hasn't been particularly fair to Eric and Andrew, touching upon issues like homophobic parents and a discriminatory adoption process. Yet, these elements are not explored in depth, making them feel more like plot devices than meaningful narrative elements.

The film presents its characters with an existential moral dilemma: to save the world from an impending apocalypse, they must decide to sacrifice one of their own. This theme of moral ambiguity and choice is not new to cinema but is rarely explored with such high existential stakes.

However, critics argue that the film fails to explore this dilemma in depth. According to the Variety review, Eric and Andrew spend less than one minute of the film's running time actually debating which of their family members they would choose to eliminate. The focus is instead on why the intruders believe that some kind of biblical Armageddon is upon us. This leaves the audience with a "preposterous proposition" rather than a profound exploration of human morality.

The film's moral dilemma also lacks the weight it could have had, partly because the intruders can't force or harm the family in any way, according to the "rules" set by the screenplay. This removes a key element of skepticism and urgency, making the moral dilemma feel more like a thought experiment than a compelling narrative force.

The film has received a mixed bag of reviews. The critics' consensus suggests that it is a thought-provoking but not particularly terrifying chiller. Variety's review was especially critical, pointing out that the film lacks depth in its moral dilemma and features unrealistic characters that don't resonate with real human experiences. This lack of depth and authenticity seems to have impacted the film's overall critical reception negatively.

With a U.S. box office gross of $35.4 million, "Knock at the Cabin" falls short of blockbuster status. This modest financial performance may be indicative of the film's inability to connect with a broader audience, possibly due to its mixed critical reviews and the high expectations set by Shyamalan's previous successes.

When measured against Shyamalan's more successful films like "Split," "Unbreakable," and "Signs," "Knock at the Cabin" appears to lack the narrative cohesion and emotional depth that made those films resonate with audiences. Those films were not only commercial successes but also critically acclaimed for their nuanced exploration of complex themes like identity, heroism, and faith. In contrast, "Knock at the Cabin" seems to fall short in both storytelling and thematic depth.

"Knock at the Cabin" had the ingredients to be a groundbreaking film, with its attempt to challenge societal stereotypes and its exploration of complex moral dilemmas. However, it appears to have missed its mark, receiving mixed critical reviews and achieving only modest commercial success. While it may provoke thought and discussion, it doesn't fully deliver on its thematic promises, especially when compared to some of Shyamalan's more successful and impactful works.


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About the author Jimmy Jangles

My name is Jimmy Jangles, the founder of The Astromech. I have always been fascinated by the world of science fiction, especially the Star Wars universe, and I created this website to share my love for it with fellow fans.

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