M. Night Shyamalan’s latest supernatural thriller is a breathless, and emotionally soul crushing tale of the choices we make for the people we love.
By Ankit Ojha on February 3, 2023

Knock At The Cabin” is M. Night Shyamalan‘s 15th film as a director, and stars Johnathan Groff (“The Matrix Resurrections,” 2021), Ben Aldridge (“Spoiler Alert,” 2022), Dave Bautista (“Army of the Dead,” 2021), Rupert Grint (Apple TV’s “Servant,” 2019-present), and Kristen Cui. An adaptation of author Paul Tremblay’s book “The Cabin at the End of the World,” the film is set in the titular cabin in the woods, which happens to be a holiday getaway for married couple Eric (Groff) and Andrew (Aldridge), and their adopted daughter Wen (Cui). Their leisure time is cut short when two men and two women land on their doorstep with a bizarre favor to ask of the family—they choose who gets sacrificed to save the world from eternal doom.

Shyamalan wastes no time getting the viewer right in the eye of the storm—as the film opens, an awkward Leonard (Bautista)—one of the four “chosen”—meets a clearly discomforted Wen and attempts to befriend her as she curiously assesses the situation. As Leonard’s three companions are within eyeshot, Wen decides to run to the cabin and lock the front door, and this is where the tension shoots right up, winding us until there’s no space left to breathe.

In what’s now become Shyamalan’s trademark style of non-linear storytelling, there are breaks within the tense narrative of “Knock At The Cabin“—and here’s where we watch the story of Eric and Andrew unfold. For reasons that become obvious when you see it, those breaks also leave bruises that sting doubly when you’re pushed back to the present day. Tracing the journey of Andrew’s trauma as a result of a hate crime against him, his parents’ heavily implied homophobia, and the amount of energy, both physical and emotional, the couple has had to invest to be a happy family, there’s a lot of pain laced in this love story, and—depending on whether the lack of linearity worked for you in Shyamalan’s own “Split” (2017)makes you badly want to root for their survival against all the cards they’re dealt.

With how the film is narratively designed for most of its first half, you’d find yourself cheering for every attempt to thwart The Next Worst Thing To HappenTM, almost settling into this comfortable lull of what should happen. The family has gone through so much to claim their own sense of normalcy in a world that’s been nothing but hostile to them, and if you can feel exactly how they feel as the story unfolds, you want that win for them. Because this is directed by Shyamalan, the tables turn on both the family and the viewers—and this is where the hard questions hit you right in the face like a ton of bricks. Pushing the envelope on the thorny discussions might be the director’s favorite narrative device, considering it’s a reoccurring piece of every one of his puzzles. 

Take, for example, the third and final chapter of what’s now dubbed the Eastrail 177 trilogy, which does the exact same thing, except focusing on superhero media and comic books within the larger cultural context. “Glass” (2019) interestingly explores the strained expectations-versus-reality situation with superhumans and how they’re perceived by power-hungry humans who want nothing but to stay on top. The real kicker is how it asks us, “What if superheroes and supervillains were real? Would they be fighting each other because of ideological differences or would the narrative be in complete control of people you never saw coming?”

Knock At The Cabin
“Wait, so you’re saying my dad is Agent Smith?” // (L-R) Ben Aldridge, Kristen Cui, and Johnathan Groff star in M. Night Shyamalan’s Knock At The Cabin, a Universal Pictures, Blinding Edge Pictures, and FilmNation Entertainment film.

Knock At The Cabin” isn’t far off in its approach from “Glass.” Using the home-invasion thriller archetype as a foundation, it uses the grounded elements of the kind of cult-like behavior that leads to a frightening number of people getting harmed and makes us wonder what we would do if a cult’s bizarre delusion weren’t really that, and came from a place of both sincerity and truth.

How the story plays out optically is where the film might fail for a section of the audience. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were more than enough interpretations of Shyamalan’s film being secretly conservative and homophobic because of its storytelling—especially in its final act. Scratch beyond the surface, and you’ll find a lot more than its base-level interpretation as trauma porn glorifying queer self-sacrifice to—for the lack of a better phrase—appease the queer-hating gods. 

The constant push both Andrew and Eric have to make against the world, time and time again, from Andrew’s parents to the stressful adoption process and gay bashing, make the two conclude they were targeted for their queerness. And the most significant statement the movie makes is not that queer people need to be pushed into the throes of forced sacrifice to save the world from darkness—it’s that often when we fight the most against a world that is hostile to us for every second of every day; when we push back against possible oppression and bigotry as a result of homophobia, we end up loving those we love harder.

I remember walking out of the cinemas as the credits rolled on “Knock At The Cabin“—M. Night Shyamalan’s 15th film as a director as of writing this review—and feeling an intense physical discomfort in the pits of my stomach on the ride home. Chalking it initially to a stomach bug, I would later realize this feeling of unrelenting nauseousness—almost like a presence was hell-bent on churning my insides, would only reappear with any passing thought I’d have about the film. 

It’s been days since, and while my experience watching the movie has left me with a hollow pit of unrelenting existential dread—almost consumes me, for lack of a better term—I’ve also come to process why, despite an emotionally devastating journey through its narrative, I still found myself loving the film the more I think about it.

Whether it’s the love of your life or the world the family you love resides in, the power to love someone or something else profoundly allows you to make choices you wouldn’t make in either anger or hate. “Knock At The Cabin” is really about this power of choice. And it’s this storytelling decision that makes the film the powerful, empathetic piece of work it is. You may or may not find the logic and optics of the film and its characters flawed, depending on whether your school of criticism—engagement of the text that is there versus the text that you think could have been. But to those the film reached, it doesn’t really matter, nor should it.

A previous edition of this review was written in collaboration with—and first published on The Black CAPE Magazine.