Reviewed by Alicia Glass
Spoilers be knockin’ too!
Based on the 2018 novel The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul G. Tremblay, while on vacation at their cabin, a family is terrorized by a quartet of strangers who demand they make an impossible decision in order to avert the world-destroying apocalypse!
This is a strange one, even for Shyamalan. The theme of “it’s just not enough” runs rampant throughout the film, whether it be character motivations, resolve, end results, or even proof of what these strangers are espousing. I could excuse the whole apocalypse news non-proof as a matter of faith, which isn’t supposed to be proven as a matter of course, but it’s not as if any of these characters had an actual religious revelation. Just speculation, and a leap of faith, not in any kind of deity, but the potential inherent goodness in humanity, at the very end. And if any of the characters, either Andrew and Eric or the apocalypse crew, had had some kind of massive revelation in that vein, the ending would’ve had a lot more punchy impact. As it was, things just kind of petered out in an exhausted fashion.
So Eric (Jonathon Groff) and Andrew (Ben Aldridge) genuinely love each-other, despite parental and societal objections, and personal shortcomings, to the point where they’re ready to have (adopt) a baby together. And Wen (Kristen Cui) truly is a miracle, scarred lip and Asian heritage and all. But the fact remains that our lovely gay couple have to pretend that one of them is the brother of a fictitious wife who mysteriously couldn’t be there on adoption day, otherwise it wouldn’t be allowed at all; Andrew’s parents drove seven hours to meet the love of his life and stayed for all of forty-five excruciating minutes of virtual silence; and then there’s the homophobic trash starting fights at a bar, that ended with Andrew traumatized and determined to defend himself and his love. (One of the few great things about the film is the clear demonstration of an expression, pardon me here: “Just because a man is gay, does not make him a p*ssy.”)
All these experiences had a tendency to have a kind of polarizing effect on Eric and Andrew, who are still together but now seem to have deepened into separate opinions on humanity – Andrew is, to my mind anyway, justifiably angry and wrathful, whereas Eric simply smiles beatifically, like an angel who forgives you no matter what you do, willingly suffering martyrdom or at the very least some massive head trauma, offered up like a sacrifice of love. And hey, speaking of sacrifices ….
None of that has been piecemealed out to the audience as yet, when Wen meets a large disturbing man while out hunting grasshoppers at the cabin. Leonard (Dave Bautista), is the gentle but insistent giant, leader of the quartet come here to present Eric and Andrew’s family with an impossible choice: voluntarily sacrifice someone of our trio, to save the whole world from the apocalypse, end of days, wtfever you want to call it.
With Leonard is a trio of believers, all claiming to have seen the same visions, seeing each-other wear the exact same colors as they invade the cabin, the horrific destruction of the world by fire and flood and plane-death, even the homemade apocalypse avatar weapons, all intent and terrified, but singularly determined. Sabrina (Nikki Amuka-Bird) is, or was, a nurse practitioner, and deals violence with one hand while immediately trying to heal it with the other, hence a mightily contradictory character who still resolves to see this through to the end. Adriane (Abby Quinn) is the twitchy, nervously tic-ing line cook, the one who regards serving good food as a form of love and laughs a little too much, like she’s gone insane just by being here, which is about par for this course. And rounding out our foursome is Redmond (Rupert Grint), impatient and jittery and more prone to violence than any of the rest of them, the one who seems eerily familiar in fact, the first to suggest savagery to get Eric and Andrew to cooperate, and the first to die as a consequence.
Time is running out and though Leonard is profusely apologetic, we absolutely must continue with the attempts to save the world, there are rules to be followed, and we only get a few more chances. As if the calamitous news stories about planes falling out of the sky and catastrophic tsunamis consuming coastlines wasn’t enough, every time Eric and Andrew refuse to make a choice, a believer has to die and (another) plague is unleashed upon mankind. Seeing a stranger, fanatic zealot or not, get brutally slain with homemade doomsday weapons after voluntarily dropping to his/her knees and donning a white hood is disturbing, to say the very least. And yet, despite literally shaking in their boots and sobbing like the Niagara, our faithful are here to give it a few more last, desperate goes at saving the whole world!
There’s a general agreement that director Shyamalan’s films have been steadily going downhill since arguably his magnum opus The Sixth Sense, and Knock at the Cabin is no real exception. There isn’t really even any kind of twist or gotcha that Shyamalan’s known for – actual aliens, ghostly supernatural shenanigans, killer plants, centenarian-laced beaches, all of that and more is nowhere to be found in our Cabin. Just a very disquieting sense that two beleaguered gay men forced into being the deciders of the fate of humanity as a whole, to offer up their true, real love as a sacrifice to some seriously sh*tty (and yknow, occasionally murderous) other humans is highly inflammatory and judgmental. Maybe that’s what Shyamalan was going for, who knows? And as always, Shyamalan himself gets a cameo in the film, see if you can spot him!
Save your judgment for the very last scene and catch Knock at the Cabin in theaters now!