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Shyamalan rediscovers tense-thiller mode in ‘Knock at the Cabin’

Shyamalan rediscovers tense-thiller mode in ‘Knock at the Cabin’

Has there ever been a Hollywood director who has been as hit or miss as M. Night Shyamalan? When he is at his best his films are great – films such as ‘The Sixth Sense’, ‘Signs’ and ‘Split’ are always going to live on as cult favourites. But oh boy, when this guy is off his game, things can get mental – anybody remember the abysmal mess that was ‘The Last Airbender’?

By David Griffiths

Saturday 4 February 2023, 11:00AM

Nikki Amuka-Bird, Dave Bautista and Abby Quinn in Knock at the Cabin (2023). Image: IMDb

Nikki Amuka-Bird, Dave Bautista and Abby Quinn in Knock at the Cabin (2023). Image: IMDb

With a mind like that, heading into a cinema to watch a Shyamalan movie is like blindly reaching into a mixed lolly bag – you never really know what you are going to get until you taste it. Well put those fears to the back of your mind with his latest film because Knock at the Cabin needs to be added to his list of hits.

This slow-burn thriller begins with every parent’s worst nightmare. Young Wen (newcomer Kristen Cui) is innocently collecting grasshoppers when she is approached by the man-mountain that is Leonard (Dave Bautista – Guardians of the Galaxy), who seems harmless enough but it is easy to tell that he has sinister plans afoot.

When fear takes over Wen runs inside to her two fathers – Eric (Jonathan Groff – Frozen) and Andrew (Ben Aldridge – Our Girl). That sparks a dangerous game of cat and mouse between the happy family and a group of intruders made up of Leonard, a seemingly caring nurse Sabrina (Nikki Amuka-Bird – Old), an overly helpful cook Ardiane (Abby Quinn – After The Wedding) and the aggressive Redmond (Rupert Grint – the Harry Potter franchise).

If that sounds like a plot that raises questions it is because that is exactly what it does. There is something kind of brilliant about Shyamalan and the team’s screenplay here. The plot itself has as many twists and turns as a mountain road and the result is something kind of amazing for the audience – a film where you never know what is going to happen next or what is going to happen to the characters that you feel close to.

The strange thing about the film is that you also don’t know who is in the right, either. On one hand you have a happy family who seem to be the victim of a home invasion. But then when the story starts to simmer and settle, you begin to see that perhaps the intruders have the moral high ground – but of course that all comes down to whether or not they are telling the truth – and as Andrew keeps pointing out there are so many holes in their story and their supposed mission that you simply can’t work out whether or not they can be believed or not.

The one thing that does become very obvious with Knock at the Cabin is the fact that there aren’t many directors that could have pulled off this film in the way that Shyamalan does. Many directors would want to signpost the film’s plot twists or encourage the audience to take a side between the family or the intruders. Shyamalan never does any of those things. Instead he lets the plot play out with the intensity of a theatre production in front of the audience, never revealing his hand until he is ready for the audience to know what is the truth and what is a lie. The result is a thriller that genuinely keeps up the suspense all the way through.

The intense script also brings out the best in the film’s cast. Young Kristen Cui is sensational throughout the film making it hard to believe that this is her first time on screen while around her the major players take their game to a whole new level.

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There have been recent discussions online between Hollywood directors about just how good Dave Bautista has become as an actor and if there were any naysayers out there doubting those claims then this is the film that will silence them. What is called upon Bautista here with his character of Leonard is something unusual. He is asked to play a character that is physically menacing, dangerous yet seems to have a heart of gold. A tricky role to pull off but somehow Bautista manages to do it and despite some of the predicaments that Leonard finds himself in the audience will still have a soft spot for him.

This might also be the year where cinema audiences start to praise Ben Aldridge. He is great here as a father pushed to the edge and audiences will soon get to see his emotionally charged performance in Spoiler Alert. This under-rated actor is set to become a household name very, very quickly.

Knock at the Cabin is a great reminder of the amazing feats that M. Night Shyamalan is capable of as a director. His directional skills, a stunning screenplay and the hard-hitting film score take the audience back to a time when Hollywood thrillers really knew how to bring suspense to the screen – this may well be one of the big surprises of 2023.

Knock at the Cabin is currently screening in Phuket and is rated ‘15’.

4/5 Stars

David Griffiths has been working as a film and music reviewer for over 20 years. That time has seen him work in radio, television and in print. You can follow him at 

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