At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Knock at the Cabin “2023”

At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Knock at the Cabin “2023”

MPAA Rating: R/Genre: Apocalyptic Psychological Horror/Stars: Dave Bautista, Jonathan Groff, Ben Aldridge, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Kristen Cui, Abby Quinn, Rupert Grint/Runtime: 100 minutes

I think it is a safe enough statement to make that a key component to why the realm of fiction is both as astonishing as it is and as appreciated by everyone ranging from artists to film directors is because if you really stop and think about it this is the only realm where there are no limits to be found anywhere. As a result, not only can novel and exciting locales be conjured up almost on a whim, but even if you choose to place your tale in a locale that is either rooted in the world around us complete with characters that more or less resemble people we might see on the street these too also are blessed with the ability to be more otherworldly in nature whilst seeming as genuine and honest as possible. Perhaps that’s why if you tell someone that the New York City subway has a serial killer on it who serves a group of reptilian creatures who must be fed nightly they would think you need a little bit of time at the Kooky Kook Inn, but by the same token this does prove to be quite the entertaining short story to read on a stormy night. The reason I bring this up is because I think it can safely be said that this same avenue is one that distinct film helmer M. Night Shyamalan has traversed time and time again with virtually his entire filmography. Indeed, to name but a few examples, Signs showed us an ordinary man and his family dealing with the idea of a possible hostile alien invasion of our planet, Unbreakable/Split/Glass presented a version of our world that had superpowered individuals living quietly amongst us, The Happening showed us a version of our world that was normal except for the fact that the plants had decided to murder us all, and The Sixth Sense showed us an ordinary and fairly rational man coming face to face with someone who was capable of breaking the fragile divide between the living and the dead respectively. Of course there was also one where a building superintendent discovered a water nymph, a live-action “take” on an iconic Nickelodeon cartoon, and a story about a group of people stuck in an elevator possibly with The Lord of Darkness, but we really don’t talk about those except after a drink or 5 and we’re in desperate need to sober up before heading home. This brings us to his latest cinematic endeavor in the form of Knock at the Cabin and honestly this isn’t too bad. No it’s not perfect and no it’s not a movie people will mention in the same breath as The Sixth Sense, but the work behind the camera is capable and the work in front of the camera is certainly commendable thus making this a fairly engaging slice of cinema even if it’s nowhere near as good as it could have been.

The plot is as follows: An adaptation of a 2018 novel called The Cabin at the End of the World (with a title like that I can see why they shortened it) by Paul G. Tremblay, Knock at the Cabin gets its riveting yarn underway by taking us deep into the woods of (where else?) Pennsylvania as we see a sight that is one that should be quite familiar to us by now. That being a seemingly ordinary couple very much in love taking their child on a family vacation to a cabin. In the case of this slice of cinema, that couple is Eric and Andrew and the child in question is their adopted 8-year-old daughter Wen whom they positively adore with all their hearts. As enjoyable as their vacation is going though, we soon see things take a fairly ominous turn. This is because, whilst out in the woods trying to catch some grasshoppers, we see that Wen crosses paths with a muscular, bespectacled, yet seemingly decent and gentle giant by the name of Leonard who tries to get to know more about her. Yet, in a rather surprising detour from the typical Stranger Danger route that you might be thinking, we see that Leonard’s attempts at befriending Wen actually start out reasonably well. Unfortunately, it isn’t long before things start to go sideways courtesy of a trinity of other slightly more menacing people by the names of Sabrina, Adriane, and Redmond respectively coming out of the woods and rocking some customized and quite perilous weaponry. Naturally, this raises significant alarm in our young heroine and she takes off back to the cabin to caution her dads. From there we see that the duo begin trying to make attempts to keep the quartet outside from getting inside only for all their valiant efforts to be for naught. As a result, not only are the four able to get inside, but they also manage to restrain both fathers with one even getting a concussion during the whole scuffle. Once that is done though, the quartet of home invaders distinguish themselves. Namely by making it clear that they not only don’t wish to harm them, but they also would rather be doing anything else but this. The only reason they are, they claim, is because together they have been asked by a higher power to put forth an effort to save the planet from no less than the end of the world as we know it. An effort incidentally that, according to Leonard, involves our trio making a difficult decision. Namely that they must choose one of them to willingly die. Doing so, the invaders claim, is the only way to save all of humanity. Thus has this quartet been engaging in certain medicinal substances a bit too much or is there maybe, however slim, a chance that what they are saying terrifyingly accurate and if so what does that mean for our family unit? That I will leave for you to discover for yourself dear reader…..

Now when looking at this slice of cinema from merely a surface level perspective, you should know that it is very much an A-Z yet still quite ominous thriller that presents with a puzzle for us to figure out. That being: is what this quartet of highly unwelcome house guests saying on the up and up or are all they loonier than the Looney Tunes? In that regard, this slice of cinema does a fairly intelligent job at using its story to really make a statement about the very timely conversation pieces of conspiracy nuts and the potency of sightless faith in believing in things that can’t be reinforced by either fact-rooted proof or just objective reality. Of course, even when taking into account how inherently absurd the claim made by the 4 must sound, there is no denying that the film does a fairly commendable job at having it operate as the foundation for a genuinely chilling situation that will consistently have you, along with the trio of main characters, consistently asking what is real and what is just the product of a truly freaky imagination. Along with that, even though the 4 home invaders hold true to their united claim of impending Armageddon and that what they are asking of the family comes from a higher power the film also does a wonderful job of allowing the family trio to both present and develop their own points of view as the film goes on. Namely that Andrew, the family cynic, feels that their belief system is nothing more than an attempt to harass him and Eric simply because they are gay whilst Eric actually starts to ponder if maybe just maybe there might be something to what their unwelcome guests are saying after all. To that end, we see that what the film’s helmer has managed to brilliantly pull off here is an extremely tangled and slightly spine-chilling guessing cage match between objective reality and faith specifically the kind that is propelled forward in a person by murky and conceivably ludicrous motives that might actually be right in what it is proposing. We also see that, despite the vast majority of the film occurring in the titular cabin, that Shyamalan actually does a fairly good job at not only keeping you on the edge of your seat fairly consistently, but also ensure that things are intriguing from a visual perspective even if there are moments where his trademark off-center camera angle pops up and you find yourself reaching for the Tylenol as a result. Nevertheless, not only does Shyamalan do a good job at showcasing for us the restlessness inside the cabin, but he is also able to have what occurs inside be reinforced quite well by a delightfully ominous musical accompaniment. Indeed, if there is really any issue that I have with the work that is done behind the camera on this film, it would be in the alterations that Shyamalan made in adapting this story for the big screen. Namely that, without going into spoilers, there is a key plot point that has been tinkered with here in the back half of the story. Yes, this might have been done for the benefit of “mainstream movie goers”, but it does also omit the best thing about the original story and that is how ambiguous it is. As a result, the conclusion here might be more satisfying for being concrete (especially from Shyamalan), but I do feel that the ambiguity that the source material presented readers with might have worked just a teeny tiny bit better here especially when taking into account the concepts explored throughout this film’s 100-minute runtime.

Of course, perhaps the one big positive that this slice of cinema most assuredly has going for it would be the fact that the work being done in front of the camera by all parties concerned is actually really freaking good. This starts with Ben Aldridge who, in the role of Andrew, does a good job at being the more in equal measure stubborn yet also pragmatic individual in the couple who not only has answers for seemingly every given situation, but also vehemently is unwilling to accept what is happening to him and his husband as genuine despite the fact that they are being propelled to their limits both mentally and physically. We also get a terrific performance here from Jonathan Groff who, in the role of Eric, does a wonderful job at proving to be a fantastic counterpoint to Aldridge’s Andrew especially in regard to his ever-growing level of open-mindedness about the whole situation that they have found themselves extremely reluctantly a part of. Suffice it to say that the two not only prove to be a wonderfully genuine couple with terrific chemistry between them, but they also do a terrific job at showcasing their characters as individuals so that as you see them get torn apart due to their distinct perspectives in regards to how far they each would be willing to go for their family with potentially the fate of the world at stake it does prove to be fairly heartbreaking. Along with this dynamic duo, we also get wonderful work here from Nikki Amuka-Bird, Abby Quinn, and Rupert Grint as well especially in regards to how they showcase the internal skirmish that they are all dealing with. Indeed all three of these talented performers do a wonderful job at not only showing how human they genuinely are, but also in showcasing authentic empathy towards the family and the ordeal they are having to put them through. Without a doubt in my mind though, the acting MVP in this film is none other than Dave Bautista who manages to give a truly phenomenal turn here in the role of Leonard. Indeed he is absolutely riveting as this complex yet genuinely good giant with the voice of a mouse, a devotion to a cause he clearly hopes isn’t genuine, and who would rather do anything than engage in the situation with this family that he is involved in. Suffice it to say that yes he is the “main antagonist” here, but Bautista does such a great job that you can’t help, but really comprehend this character and understand him less as a self-appointed force of nature and more as a human being. Thus this is another wonderful performance from one of the more intriguing talents working in the land of movie magic today and, with his work in the MCU coming to a close soon with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, I am more excited than ever to see just where his career goes from there.

All in all is Knock at the Cabin as great as The Sixth Sense? Ha, ha, ha….nope. Definitely and most assuredly not. At the same time though, is this Shyamalan’s next Lady in the Water? Oh heck no. Not even close. If anything, I would say that this is one that can best be classified as “good but not great”. Even with that designation in mind though, there is no denying that the slice of cinema that is Knock at the Cabin is a fairly nightmarish, taut, and yet distinct take on the iconic subgenre of movie magic known as the home invasion thriller that honestly also feels like *yet another* step on the proverbial right path for its helmer who, here lately, has managed to redeem himself to an extent for such misfires as the aforementioned Lady in the Water and The Happening plus 2013’s sci-fi “masterpiece” (and not for any of the right reasons mind you) Aftaaa Erffff ehhh After Earth. Plus, even you know the particular ports of call takes you to due to having read the source material before, it is still thankfully easy to wind up wrapped up in just how potent this set of circumstances is and to witness on the edge of your seat as anxiety and doubt batter the assurances of the characters as they try to discern what is reality and what is madness. Thus when you factor in fairly capable work behind the camera and really freaking good work from a game cast of players in front of the camera, I can safely say that whether you are worried about the lives of a single family or the lives of everyone else on the planet, this is one slice of cinema that will definitely leave you asking yourself how you would rise to the challenge of dealing with the terrifying choice at the core of this film long after the screen has cut to black, and the credits at long last have begun to roll….Make of that dear reader what thou will. On a scale of 1-5 I give Knock at the Cabin “2023” a solid 3.5 out of 5.