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Review: Shyamalan keeps you guessing with 'Knock at the Cabin'

Posted Tuesday, May 9, 2023 at 2:25 PM Central
Last updated Tuesday, May 9, 2023 at 3:21 PM Central

by John Couture

A few years ago, as the pandemic was just rearing its ugly head, I listened to an interesting audiobook "The Cabin at the End of the World" by Paul G. Tremblay. Given the uncertain times ahead with the onset of COVID 19, this book was a tough slog as it seemed like the book was a bit ahead of its time describing a pathogen with a high mortality rate running amok around the world.

While the plague in the book was little more than a single plot point in a far bigger story with real (or not) consequences, it always stuck with me as COVID 19 took off that maybe the end of the world was, indeed, at hand. Thankfully, COVID 19 has finally cooled off to a point where the WHO has declared an end to the emergency phase of COVID 19.

And yet, much like Tremblay's book, it lingers and pokes at my brain often making me wonder if it will ever truly go away.

Divisive filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan (fair warning that I am a fan) took Tremblay's source material and put his trademark style on it. Although to be fair, most of the film remains faithful to the book with one major exception having to do with the climax and denouement.

While vacationing at a remote cabin, a young girl and her parents are taken hostage by four armed strangers who demand that the family make an unthinkable choice to avert the apocalypse. With limited access to the outside world, the family must decide what they believe before all is lost.

While I usually refrain from spoilers in my review, I feel it's impossible to discuss Knock at the Cabin without diving into the ending and how Shyamalan put his signature stamp on the film. So, if you haven't seen Knock at the Cabin or want to remain in the dark about Tremblay's end to "The Cabin at the End of the World," then turn back now.

You've been warned.

Off the top, I just have to applaud the casting of the film. Aside from his usual Hitchcockian cameo, M. Night Shyamalan really knocked the casting out of the park. Jonathan Groff and Ben Aldridge as the two Dads really bring a level of authenticity to the roles. Groff is perhaps best known for his portrayal of King George in Hamilton on Broadway, but has plenty of animated voice work under his belt. Aldridge is a little less known, save for his work on Fleabag, but they both present a compelling turn for the LGBTQI+ community.

In the past, an actor's sexual preference rarely impacted the roles upon which they were cast. In other words, plenty of straight (aka more bankable) stars were thrust into LGBTQI+ roles in the past, and while it would have been convenient to cast more well-known actors in the roles of Andrew and Eric, Groff and Aldridge shine in a difficult task.

Wrestler-turned-actor David Bautista provides more gravitas in his role as leader of the four horsemen of the apocalypse than any of his turns as Drax in the Guardians of the Galaxy films. He really is more than a one-trick pony and I'm here to see where he goes next.

Finally, Harry Potter alum Rupert Grint is also refreshing as the redneck violent oaf Redmond aka O'Bannon. While his screen time is sadly cut short, his presence carries a lot of weight and if I had but one criticism of the book and movie, I really think they could have mined more from this plot point than they do. It's a lost opportunity in the book and it's compounded in the movie by overcasting the role with Grint.

While the book's ending is more open-ended, leaving the ultimate fate of the planet up to the reader's imagination, Shyamalan makes the choice to wrap things up a little more neatly. What is lost by this change is the ambiguous nature of the foursome intent on forcing a family to make a sacrifice to save humanity.

While Shyamalan's decision might give the audience a more satisfactory if not more uplifting ending, you do lose a lot by taking out Wen's tragic accidental demise. Likewise, you also lose (or at least seriously playdown) O'Bannon's revenge plot in lieu of the apocalypse scenario.

With someone like Rupert Grint cast as Redmond/O'Bannon, you have the opportunity to inject more doubt into the spiritual overtures of the rest of the film. Given Shyamalan's track record (read: The Village), I fully expected his signature twist at the end to be that it was all an O'Bannon plot and that none of the supposed four plagues hitting the Earth were real.

I was convinced of it up to the very end because I thought the sacrifice of Eric in lieu of Wen's accidental death would have been even more tragic had they realized that they were truly being played the whole time. Instead, we get a more traditional ending where the spiritual aspects are given full weight by the seeming success of Eric's sacrifice and his acceptance of it when "Boogie Shoes" by KC and the Sunshine Band comes on the truck's radio as Andrew and Wen set out to return to civilization.

Eric played that same song on their way to the cabin and not only does it serve as a sort of bookend to the film, but it's a nice way to wink at the supernatural aspects without laying down too much of a heavy hand.

All in all, I think that Knock at the Cabin is a great addition to the M. Night Shyamalan canon. When he was announced as the director of the film, I remember remarking to myself that he was a wonderful choice and the end result only confirms my initial feeling.

Knock at the Cabin is now available on 4K UHD, Blu-ray and DVD.