Knock at the Cabin is a psychological thriller that is slightly guilty of repeating the same horror moments over and over but it’s still effective. And it cheats slightly at the end with how the characters react to the situation from how they are presented the entire time. Overall, there’s a genuine sense of impending doom that permeates the experience. There are also effective emotional bits which contrasts nicely with the violent messiness making for a compelling and surprisingly small-scale apocalypse.
Eric (Johnathan Groff), his husband Andrew (Ben Aldridge) and their daughter Wen (Kristen Cui) are vacationing at a secluded cabin. Things get strange when a guy named Leonard (Dave Bautista) arrives with three associates, Sabrina (Nikki Amuka-Bird), Redmond (Rupert Grint), and Ardiane (Abby Quinn). They’re carrying homemade and very nasty looking weapons and break in and tie up the terrified family. Leonard says they were brought together by a vision of the end of the world, and the only way to stop it is to have one member of the family kill another one. Andrew refuses to believe it and will never go along with the murderous plan, but the news shows horrible things happening across the world. It may not be a coincidence as things get bloodier as the day goes on, both inside the cabin and in the outside world.
The movie’s setup is good yet robbed of some immediacy as Andrew instantly says they won’t go through with it. The chaos in the outside world is unfolding on the TV so Andrew explains away what is happening as old news stories or the TV has been rigged. As horrible things are happening both inside and outside the house, Andrew refuses to change his mind. Eric is suffering from a concussion so he can be excused for being slightly more susceptible to suggestion. There are actions taken by the two at the climax of the film that runs counter to what they were saying the entire flick which is a bit difficult to swallow.
The movie opens very effectively with Leonard having a conversation with Wen that has lots of disconcerting staring down the barrel of the camera closeups. There is a sense of menace when the reveal of Leonard and his crew advancing on the home with some crazy looking hook weapons as the home invasion is very tense. There’s a lot of muffled talking through the doorway until Leonard’s crew bashes the door in, with ultimately futile attempts of Eric and Andrew to keep them out. It is stuff that has been seen in home invasion movies before, but director M. Night Shyamalan is good at drawing out tense moments.
Ultimately, Knock is somewhat repetitive in its structure. Leonard makes an impassioned speech about what is about to happen, the guys refuse, and then one of Leonard or his minions do something horribly messy, and then disastrous things in the outside world are revealed on TV. This happens repeatedly, but each moment is quite effective. Leonard and his goons can physically stop the family from leaving but they cannot kill them, that must be done by one of their own. It gives the movie a set of “rules” and how the crew makes an impactful statement to the family is quite violent. The random glimpses of all the disasters happening in the outside world are freaky and really horrible stuff happens near the end. The setup is very similar to Cabin in the Woods which was about some unknowns at a cabin responsible for the apocalypse however tonally these movies are very different. Knock is a very serious film, Cabin has more in common with dark comedy.
Bautista gets in the most talking and he plays things very quietly, there’s really only one moment where he raises his voice and then immediately apologizes for it. He comes across as a true believer in the cause as he knows he is asking the family to do something horrible. Another unsettling member is Grint as Redmond who seems irritated that he has to go through with this, and he gets in the first shocking moment of unexpected violence. Quinn as Adriane is the more talkative one who tries to find something positive in the chaos. Amuka-Bird as Sabrina seems apologetic about inflicting violence, saying she’s a nurse and offers to fix up Eric’s concussion. Groff and Aldridge as the couple get a few flashbacks that flesh out the highs and lows of their relationship which adds emotional heft to their decision. Aldridge’s logical Andrew seems more like the hero of the piece because he can rationally explain away all of the nonsense, but Eric seems to slowly be coming around. Groff’s performance dances delicately in between someone experiencing a religious awakening or suffering from head trauma. Cui as their daughter gets in some good reactions and loud screaming, although the kid is basically there to generate some false jeopardy as the kid’s well being is never in danger as much as the two adults.
This is an unsettling experience as facing down apocalyptic zealots is automatically disturbing. Knock at the Cabin shows a small point of view from a worldwide apocalypse which makes it tense. It may repeat the same essential beats over and over, but it feels impactful.
Knock at the Cabin
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Starring: Dave Bautista, Jonathan Groff, Ben Aldridge, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Kristen Cui, Abby Quinn and Rupert Grint