“You see, the four of us have a very important job to do. In fact, it might be the most important job in the history of the world.”
What is it about a cabin in the woods that makes it a good place for the apocalypse? When I think of those isolated cabins, I think of good ol’ Abe Lincoln or a group of guys bonding over a fishing/hunting weekend. But when it comes to folks like Joss Whedon or now M. Night Shyamalan, they see disaster. Where I see a day on the lake, these guys see the end of the world. It’s not like Shyamalan hasn’t brought us there before. The box office bomb After Earth comes to mind. So what about his latest effort, Knock At The Cabin? The trailers appear to pretty much give the plot away, but pleasantly there’s a little bit more to it than that. I’m a huge fan of the man’s mostly early works. The Sixth Sense, The Village, Signs, Unbreakable, and even the more recent Split and Glass are all first-rate films in my book. But lately it’s been more hit than miss from the guy who grew up in the same Philly area playpen where I grew up. So, flop or fantastic? Knock At The Cabin falls somewhere in the middle, which is a new experience for me from a Shyamalan movie.
“We were called and are united by a common vision which has now become a command that we cannot ignore. The four of us are here to prevent the apocalypse. Your family has been chosen to make a horrible decision. If you fail to choose, the world will end.”
If you saw the trailer, you already know this much. We find a family on vacation. There’s young Wen, played exceptionally by Kristen Cui. She’s having a blast collecting and naming grasshoppers. She has two fathers. There’s Andrew (Aldridge) and Eric (Groff). They’re at this quaint isolated cabin to relax. Along comes Leonard (Batista), who introduces himself to the puzzled Wen and helps her collect some grasshoppers. Her inquisitive nature brings out some alarming things from the stranger, and she rushes to the house to warn her dads to lock up and not let Leonard and his three friends in the cabin. Leonard says they just want to talk about something important, but his friends are packing some really medieval “tools” for the talk, and they try to keep the party out. But what are you going to do? You know those armed traveling salesmen are taught to never take no for an answer. So Leonard and his pals get inside with a little damage, and pretty soon the two dads are tied to chairs, and the intruders are actually cleaning up the mess they made and apologizing for the intrusion. Well, all except for Redman, played by Robert Grint of Harry Potter fame. He’s obviously got an anger management problem. Next is Ardiane, played by Abby Quinn. She’s the one trying to fix the door she just broke down. Then there’s nurse Sabrina, played by Nikki Amuka-Bird. She’s got something of a split personality.
You already know this, so no harm telling you this much. They claim to have been sent there to save the world. No, Al Gore didn’t send them. Apparently they shared visions and were somehow told to come to this cabin and meet this family to ask them to do them a little favor. Nothing much, you understand. They merely need to choose one from the three of them and kill them. That action, we’re assured, will put that pesky apocalypse of biblical proportions on hold for a while, and everyone can just get back to what they were doing. You know? No harm no foul.
No one here is going to play along, so the “visitors” have a system to bring about warning signs, but these little hints at the disaster to come don’t happen without a cost. I’ll let you discover the cost, but we do get some indications that these guys might not be escapees from Nurse Ratchet, if you follow my meaning. But here’s where the film completely falls apart.
I love the idea. It’s one of those Indecent Proposal kinds of things that can really get you to think. Would I be able to choose a member of my family to die in order to save everyone else? The kicker is that while everyone else dies, your family will be spared, cursed to walk the dead Earth, I’m thinking forever. That part wasn’t so clear. So you have a pretty thought-provoking premise going on here. The problem is they go out of their way to repeat the rules but don’t really end up following them. The logic of the film goes out the window. Their proof of the signs totally plays with the timeline, and the more they are convincing, the less I’m actually convinced. It just seems off to me, particularly when these guys are going out of their way to convince this family of the situation. I can suspend my belief better than most. I go to a moving begging you to take me into your world. Give me the rules, and I’ll believe. These guys betrayed that scared covenant between movie and audience. So much for this quite intriguing idea. Better luck next time, M.
It’s a shame, because a lot of things are done very well here. David Batista has never been better. I heard he’s knocked the film and his performance, but he’s never played a deeper, more nuanced character. He’s really good, and so I wanted so much to go along for this ride. Another wonderful performance comes from young Kristen Cui. I loved her in this. That little girl has such expression in her face. She knows how to use her eyes extremely well. You’re going to fall in love with this little girl, and she has some weird but good chemistry with Batista early on. In the end there’s so much to love here, but the film’s logic just pulled me out too often to love the film like I do so many aspects. Truth be told, “My heart is broken.”