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Knock At The Cabin ★★★★★



Director: M. Night Shyamalan

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

Release Date: February 3rd 2023

Few contemporary image-makers possess the kind of earnestness and utmost respect for the craft of filmmaking as M. Night Shyamalan. There’s a refreshing confidence to his work, a certain rebellious vulnerability that’s sorely missing in the current climate of overbearing cynicism and premeditated market-oriented cinema. With his previous effort, Old, the master of empathetic storytelling, showcased the universality of human fears around corporeal deterioration and grief in the face of apocalypse, framing the central conflict through collective anxieties around predatory late-capitalist practices. It was a bold feature and one that once again reinstated Shyamalan’s status as one of the most economical and distinctly sensitive filmmakers working today. It seems like he’s found his element in the mid-budget chiller niche, as Knock at the Cabin continues that trend with another exceptional outing from the master of suspense.

Much like Old, Shyamalan’s latest is based on a pre-existing work: Paul G. Tremblay’s The Cabin at the End of the World serves as the foundation for this claustrophobic doomsday. Set in a remote cabin deep in the woods of New Jersey, the film follows Andrew (Ben Aldridge) and Eric (Jonathan Groff), fathers who decide to take a lakeside vacation with their daughter Wen (Kristen Cui). When uninvited guests show up at their door with an unfathomably morbid request, the couple has to face the most important question of their lives – and maybe the entire civilization.

Once again, Shyamalan expands a deceptively simple premise into a grand moral dilemma: an impossible choice becomes a ticking time bomb as the home invasion turns into a cataclysmic event. Tackling the anxieties surrounding reactionary extremists and employing them within the foundation of queer horror, the film functions as a deeply emotional nightmare – the only way out is by convincing yourself that humanity does not deserve another chance. Andrew and Eric understand that family is forever… but what if they’re the only ones to walk the scorched Earth? It’s this everlasting love amidst the life of pain that complicates the narrative, crafting an emotionally resonant apocalyptic tale of otherness.

But Shyamalan is a humanist, and so are his films. Knock at the Cabin believes in humanity just as much as its creator, presenting a complex view of the world that not only rejected some of its inhabitants but forced them to suffer when faced with forced assimilation. The film doesn’t shy away from the queer horror discourse and fully embraces some of the harsher questions posed by the source material, providing its protagonists with agency and treating them with much-needed empathy. It’s a starkly different interpretation of this story, but one that is no less sensitive and tender – in part, thanks to the career-best performances from Groff and Bautista.

Formal exuberance has long become the staple of Shyamalan’s filmmaking, and Knock at the Cabin is no different: discomforting close-ups, 90s camera equipment, and strictly vintage lenses. The result is a visual feast, an expertly photographed genre film that communicates its grand ideas through equally striking filmmaking. It’s an intimate film and one that expects the audience to engage with its tragic sincerity and intricate moral dilemmas. Unlike Richard Kelly’s criminally underappreciated The Box, there’s a haunting silence to the film’s coda – a heartbreak that echoes through the deepest woods. Sacrifice for those who suffered before us and the children who will come after, the cost of a more welcoming Earth for the generations to come. The world moves for love, and nothing will ever stop it.

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