Audiences have a love/hate relationship with the director once dubbed “The Next Spielberg.”
Fans flocked to M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Sixth Sense,” “Unbreakable,” and “Split,” while salvaging its many duds (“Lady in the Water,” “The Happening,” and “The Last Airbender”).
That leaves “Knock at the Cabin” as his most curious effort. Its good. The third act doesn’t sink the film, and the trailer’s eerie vibes reverberate from start to finish.
What is missing ? This singular cold that Shyamalan brings together in his best films.
Dave Bautista stars as Leonard, a hulking stranger who approaches a little girl outside a cabin in Pennsylvania. He forges a quick bond with young Wen (Kristen Cui) about grasshoppers, but he’s not here to talk entomology.
He’s part of a four-person posse warning Wen’s gay parents, Eric (Jonathan Groff) and Andrew (Ben Aldridge), that they have a choice ahead of them.
The world will end unless the family makes a terrible and inevitable sacrifice.
East Leonard and co. eager to exploit an innocent family? Could they be targeting the trio for homophobic reasons? Or is their terrible vision about to come true?
Shyamalan, working with co-writers Steve Desmond and Michael Sherman, set the pieces in motion with breathtaking speed. If you’ve seen the trailer, you know what’s to come, but “Cabin” wastes little time getting there.
It is a blessing and a curse. Can the filmmakers keep our attention for more than 90 minutes given this fast setup?
It helps that Bautista’s soft giant shtick is impressive and long-lasting. Leonard isn’t using his mace for the couple to decide the fate of humanity, or their version. He is soothing, warning the family of what will happen if they ignore his warning.
Along the way, Shyamalan uncovers real-world scenarios, from the rise of conspiracy theorists to the fears gay men face in modern society.
This last thread is full of cliches, and it’s the least interesting part of the director’s vision.
Shyamalan is famous for his big swings and even bigger misses. “Knocking at the cabin” is different. He works on a smaller canvas, both visually and thematically. There aren’t a lot of storytelling options to consider, which drastically reduces the level of thrill.
That, and a recurring sense of loss that quickly turns out to be predictable.
How very un-Shyamalan.
“Knock at the Cabin” forcefully narrows down the in-game options. Most of the action takes place in the titular cabin, and flashbacks flesh out little of the Eric/Andrew dynamic. Too bad “Cabin” takes so little risk with the gay couple in question, following approved narratives without much introspection.
Luckily Cui reminds us how good Shyamalan is at directing young actors. His presence matters, raising the stakes at stake.
Is a child worth…everything?
Shyamalan often injects faith into his stories, and there’s a spiritual element here too. It also plays with the notion of family and how far parents will go to protect their children. it’s one of his most charming mannerisms, and something absent in the work of many mainstream directors.
“Knock at the Cabin” packs a punch in the third act, which won’t surprise any of its fans (or haters). What’s most shocking is how you’re likely to see all of this coming.