KNOCK AT THE CABIN – Review – We Are Movie Geeks



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Well, we’re past what is considered the worst (bitter cold and snowy) months of Winter (for some parts of the country), which may get many folks thinking about a nice getaway. Y’know an out-of-the-way place, miles from the bustling city where you can recharge and re-connect with your partner, and maybe your expanding family. You can almost smell the embers and feel the warmth from a fireplace in that cabin deep in the forest, yards away from a clear blue lake. Ah, but your pessimistic side may wonder about predators. Could that twig-snap ending the quiet be bears, wolves, wildcats, or, worst of all, people? In this new thriller, they’re wanting more than money or your vehicle. And since a particular “name-above-the-title” director helms this, we know that we’re in for lots of turns and “twists” when we hear a KNOCK AT THE CABIN.

Over the opening credits, we’re treated to an odd “art show” with a montage of pen and pencil sketches of doom and destruction drawn on take-out menus, receipts, and other bits of “scrap paper”. From there we’re sent deep into the woods as a sweet little girl, perhaps seven or eight years old, collects grasshoppers for a big glass jar. Her eyes dart up to spot something much bigger than any insect, namely a massive bald man (resembling a giant from one of her beloved fairy tales). He stops his walk a few feet from her and quietly introduces himself as Leonard (Dave Bautista). She hesitantly responds with her name, Wen (Kristen Cui). As they converse she sees three other people strolling up into view. Leonard tells her that she should tell her parents to let them into their rustic retreat. Wen scurries away into the log house and frantically tells this to her two daddies, Eric (Jonathan Groff) and Andrew (Ben Aldridge), on the back patio. Just after they go inside and bolt the doors, Leonard tells them to open up and that they won’t be harmed. Through the windows, the men see that these intruders have odd makeshift weapons (a pick/mallet with a long chain, a pitchfork/axe, etc.). Andrew tries to scare them off with his own weapon, a gun, which unfortunately is in a locked safe in the back of their SUV yards way in the driveway outside.. Finally, the quartet bursts thru the windows and doors, instigating a wild struggle that leaves Eric knocked cold. When he comes to, one of the strangers is tending to his head wound. Oh, and he and Andrew are tied up, with Wen sitting at their feet shivering with fear.

Things get really weird as the “gang” takes turns introducing themselves (almost as though they’re at an acting audition). Leonard is a second-grade teacher, Sabrina (Nikki Amuka-Bird) is a nurse, Ardianne (Abby Quinn) is a chef and single mother, and Redman (Rupert Grint) is a utility worker with a dark past. Oh, they’re not there for a robbery. The men are stunned as Leonard explains that the quartet has a shared vision of several disasters that will culminate in the planet’s end. And the only way to prevent it is for the family trio to become a duo, willingly (the foursome can’t execute them, nor can suicide be an option). When a TV newsflash tells of several horrific simultaneous global tsunamis, the invaders perform a violent act to “drive the point home”. With the clock ticking, and more reports trickling in, the captured men plot an escape, while pushing aside thoughts that their captors may not share a doomsday madness. Could humanity’s fate rest with their decision?

Since the film studios’ marketing team is highlighting him in all the TV spots and posters, I suppose Bautista is the lead here (not surprisingly, given his years in the MCU). Though his Leonard is the least animated of the invading quartet, his quiet, mannered line delivery, and towering physical presence help bring a real gravitas to the offbeat premise. We know that Leonard will reject cruelty, but his demeanor shows us that he’s prepared to handle his mission. Almost the opposite of Redman played with a snarl by the usually jovial Grint (another castmate with a big franchise history). Perhaps to compete with Leonard’s bulk, Redman gives in to his ugliest impulses, “chomping at the bit” to unleash his demons, making him the gang’s dangerous “wild card”. As for the defending duo, Aldridge’s Andrew seems to “handle the reigns” as the family protector, fiercely spitting out retorts to the gang when they have the upper hand (while his own hands are tightly bound). Aldridge’s hyper-focused glare illustrates his smoldering anger at the world’s dismissal of his life and love. Goff’s Eric shares some of that passion, but tries to keep it in check, not wanting to “mix it up”, but this new crisis leaves him little choice, though he’s more questioning than his mate. Back to the intruders, Amuka-Bird as Sabrina can’t quite set aside her altruistic “healer” habits and has to truly push herself to carry out the “agenda”. And that’s much the same for Quinn’s Ardiane whose maternal instincts aren’t jettisoned for “the greater good”, especially when dealing with Wen whose sweet, open-eyed innocence is the fuel that nourishes Andrew and Eric’s will to survive and triumph over near-impossible odds.

No doubt you “got’ that the “twist” director is M. Night Shyamalan, who is directing from the screenplay adaptation of Paul Tremblay’s novel “The Cabin at the End of the World” which he co-wrote with Steve Desmond and Michael Sherman. It’s a quirky remix of DESPERATE HOURS and ON THE BEACH with a modern marriage spin, though this may play better than the same-sex duos of last year in STRANGE WORLD, BROS, and SPOILER ALERT (which co-starred Aldridge). The cast makes the opening act very tense as we shift from the slow-rising tension of Wen’s bonding with Leonard to the outright terror of the home under siege. Unfortunately, things go a bit wonky with each of the captors’ “get to know me” monologues which have a forced whimsical stagecraft feel (as though a spotlight clicks on at the start of the character’s bio). And though the film’s been slapped with an R rating, the most gruesome acts occur “off camera’, with cuts to reaction close-up and the camera “drifting aside’ as though a PG-13 label was desired. This doesn’t help the story’s pacing problem as the flow of suspense is diluted by flashbacks to Eric and Andrew’s trials (a “meet the parents” disaster) and triumphs (adopting Wen). A much-needed jolt is gained with the news reports, though the footage captures more than most “as it’s happening” possibly could). This leads to an ending that just comes to a thudding halt, made more awkward with a shoehorned mythology reference. Though this only clocks in at 100 minutes, these tonal shifts make it feel closer to the bloated “end of last year’s duds”s. As the lights go up, we’re left with a feeling that this may have worked better as an installment of one of the classic TV anthologies like “Thriller” or either of the Rod Serling-hosted shows. Now that’s a real knock on KNOCK AT THE CABIN.

1.5 out of 5

KNOCK AT THE CABIN is now playing in theatres everywhere

Jim Batts was a contestant on the movie edition of TV's "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" in 2009 and has been a member of the St. Louis Film Critics organization since 2013.