“KNOCK AT THE CABIN”
Starring Dave Bautista, Jonathan Groff, Ben Aldridge, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Kristen Cui, Abby Quinn, Rupert Grint
Written by M. Night Shyamalan, Steve Desmond and Michael Sherman
Based on the 2018 novel “The Cabin at the End of the World” by Paul G. Tremblay
Directed by M. Night Shyamalan
Produced by M. Night Shyamalan, Marc Bienstock and Ashwin Rajan

By Matt Neufeld
Feb. 2, 2023

Consider, for just a moment, for your perusal, the sad case of a forlorn, wayward Pennsylvania filmmaker who, no matter what he does, can’t seem to find his way back home. His unusual name is M. Night Shyamalan. Having reached his pinnacle early in his career, with a wildly popular film that brought him blinding, worldwide fame, fortune, glory and success, none of his numerous ensuing projects have ever reached the same high level, and he’s been continually trying to get back to that peak ever since–for the last twenty-four years. He may have unwittingly, mysteriously stepped into…the filmic version of…the twilight zone.

Please pardon the attempt at humor and analogy, but, well, it’s just true that poor M. Night Shyamalan has been unsuccessfully chasing his dream since the well-deserved success of his stellar film “The Sixth Sense” in 1999. None of his myriad follow-up films have reached the same level of high quality and overall excellence that he achieved with that taut, tight, mysterious, moving and suspenseful supernatural thriller. But there’s more to Shyamalan’s sad downward career trajectory than just a bad twenty-four-year losing streak.

The major problem with Shyamalan just happens to lie with Shyamalan himself: Simply, in essence, generally, he has made the fatal mistake of ridiculously making the same dern movie with the same dern formula in the same dern manner in the same dern genres for all of those twenty-four years, and, concurrently, he has ignored the good, strong advice of many people in the film industry to take a much-needed, extended break from horror, science fiction and fantasy and just make a different type of film, for goodness sake, for crying out loud, already.

Thus, like a familiar sad episode of Rod Serling’s “The Twilight Zone,” Shyamalan finds himself caught in an endless loop, a dark trap, a labyrinth of twists and turns of his own making, as if one of his many supernatural characters had cursed him. He just keeps making the same film, in essence, over and over and over again. That sounds harsh and mean–but it’s not harsh or mean. It’s just true. The better, more intelligent and most overall successful, filmmakers constantly reinvent, evolve, experiment, branch out and try something new in their careers, knowing that producing, directing, writing and acting in a thematic variety of movies will not only keep them fresh as artists, but it will also keep their perspective, insight, talent, popularity and success fresh as well. And the best in the business have done just that. Sure, there are a few exceptions–some filmmakers who have stuck to one set of genres and generally succeeded, overall–but they’re the exceptions.

The best advice for any artist, in any field, is to keep challenging yourself, keep trying to do something new and different, and to take a few artistic chances. Sadly, again, that’s just not what Shyamalan has done. And it’s hurt his career.

Thus, here we are, at the start of 2023, with yet another tired, cliched, formulaic, predictable and poorly-made supernatural, paranormal fantasy horror film from Shyamalan: The wholly disappointing, disturbing, downer, depressing complete mess of a movie, Shyamalan’s “Knock at the Cabin.” And everything is wrong with this poorly-conceived, poorly-constructed B-movie: the premise, the script, the dialogue, the acting, the casting, the direction and the horrendous editing, timing and pacing, all of which add up to a dreadful, suffocatingly difficult and bleak time at the movies.

The long list of problems starts with the flimsy, shaky, one-line, elevator-pitch premise, which, even if true within the story and movie, still comes across as ridiculous, unbelievable and even laughable: Four crazy, psychotic nutballs show up at a remote cabin and promptly tell the three-person family living in the cabin that one of the three family members must die, by one of the family member’s own hand, or the entire world and its population will completely perish in some collective epic apocalyptic total destruction of the planet. And, if that wasn’t moronic enough, when the family members don’t abide by that bizarre decree, the nutballs then kill one of their own–in a horrendous fashion, ultra-violently bashing in their collective heads, or slashing their throats, all horribly conducted in front of everyone else.

And it needs to be strongly noted that all of this crazy premise’s very adult-oriented discussions and all of the accompanying, unnecessarily bloody, stomach-upsetting violence occurs directly in front of an innocent 8-year-old girl, which is more unnecessarily, unintentionally disturbing and sickening than anything going on in the movie. Why any filmmaker thinks it’s entertaining to commit violent acts of murder in front of kids in a movie is beyond understanding–this twisted device hasn’t really worked in thousands of movies, and it certainly doesn’t work in this misguided movie. It’s just unpleasant and uncomfortable to stomach. It’s certainly not entertaining.

The movie never really overcomes its idiotic premise, which is never really adequately explained, ironed out, detailed or reasoned with in an overall believable, effective and understandable manner. Yes, yes, Shyamalan, who co-write, directed and co-produced this mess, does try to provide some wobbly, religious, quasi-paranornal, quasi-supernatural exposition-oriented reason for it all, but nothing anyone says or does in this movie ends up making any sense, connecting coherently, or becoming even slightly believable, even with a generous dose of willing suspension of disbelief. In short, the premise doesn’t work and, subsequently, the movie doesn’t work, either.

And, again, Shyamalan is mainly to blame for all of his mistakes. His movies, especially this one, “Knock at the Cabin,” are shot at an incredibly slow pace, edited in a slow manner, the timing is off in terms of acting, camera shot selections, dialogue and pacing, and everything just seems to be deliberately shot, edited and paced at a weird slow cadence. Shyamalan appears to be constantly trying to build suspense, tension and dread with these directing methods, but, strangely, his movies, collectively, are not suspenseful, thrilling or tense. They’re just sort of there, playing off the one-line premises and biding slow time until that expected twist or turn that everyone knows is coming and, knowing it’s a Shyamalan movie, saw coming even before they entered the movie theater.

And in “Knock,” man are things slow. Most of the movie is four insaniacs talking with two very angry parents and a frightened-out-of-her-mind 8-year-old gurl. The crazy lunatics spout unintentionally funny, poorly-written dialogue, the parents scream and yell and holler while tied up in chairs and the poor girl is, as noted, just rightfully, completely terrified. Who in earth thought this would be entertaining? Because it’s not entertaining on any possible level.

And it’s all unpleasantly claustrophobic–most of the movie takes place in one room in that one cabin. Again–who thought this would be entertaining?

Dave Bautista, who plays one of the crazed lunatics, tries his best, but he’s just oddly miscast. Bautista is indeed trying to do what he should be doing as an actor–he’s trying to stretch his range of roles beyond macho men and superheroes–bur this is just not the right role for him. And the rest of the cast seems either similarly miscast or uncomfortable in their roles. Perhaps they recognized the over-arching ridiculousness and unintentional craziness of the dialogue, script, characterizations and storyline, and they couldn’t get that craziness out of their heads. That’s not mean or harsh, either–often, actors sign up for projects based on what seems like a good idea on paper, but when they get on the set and the cameras roll, things can turn out entirely different–and entirely worse. And that stress, disappointment and exhaustion from the film shoot shows up in the actors’ performances. This happens all of the time on set, and it appears that is what happened here.

In the end, as the bodies, blood, depression, darkness and violence pile up for no real positive, entertaining reason, moviegoers may be forgiven for hoping that the apocalypse ends up winning so we don’t have to deal with any of these characters of any of these premises anymore.

Shyamalan truly, desperately needs to switch his filmic direction with his next project. There’s plenty of stories out there that are not horror, fantasy, sci-fi, the supernatural and that are not based on one-line, elevator-pitch, cliched flimsy premises with expected twists and turns at the end. M. come over here and sit down. Now, listen to me–and many others: Would it hurt, M., to make a nice comedy, a nice romance, a nice drama, Western, coming-of-age drama, historic period film, biography or, dare we suggest it, a musical? There’s a real inventive idea:. M. Night Shyamalan should direct a positive, upbeat, fun and funny movie musical. With no horror, supernatural, paranormal, science fiction or fantasy elements. None, I’m telling you. M., are you listening to me?

In the meantime, until Shyamalan releases his song-and-dance musical, save your time and money and, for the love of all that’s holy and unholy, please do not answer this particular knock at the cabin.

–30–
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Matt Neufeld

Matt Neufeld

Matt Neufeld is a longtime journalist, actor and film critic in the Washington and Baltimore areas. He has participated in many local film events and projects in the region, and he has appeared as an actor, supporting actor and extra in more than 45 films projects, at all levels, during the past 20 years.