M. Night Shyamalan took the world by storm in 1999 when he released The Sixth Sense. The young director blew our collective minds with a single twist. The movie (and his distinctive style) defined culture at the turn of the millennium and established Shyamalan as a hot young voice in horror. Over the twenty years to follow, he’s leaned heavily on his “Oooo! What a Twist!” gimmick to varying levels of success. In fact, the director has, it seems, lived long enough to see himself become a style. This week, his newest film Knock at the Cabin, hits theaters. With a fascinating trailer, will this be a breath of fresh air or more of the same “Old” twists? 

Knock at the Cabin spotlights a young couple and their adopted daughter vacationing at a luxurious rented cabin. Their pleasant trip is thrown for a loop, however, when four people show up with an outlandish claim… the apocalypse is coming, and in order to stop the onslaught, they must sacrifice a member of their family. 

Jonathan Groff holds Kristen Cui in Knock at the Cabin.

(from left) Eric (Jonathan Groff) and Wen (Kristen Cui) in Knock at the Cabin, directed by M. Night Shyamalan.

Kids, this is an M. Night Shyamalan movie, so that’s all your getting as it relates to the plot. Dave Bautista, Jonathan Groff, Ben Aldridge, Kristen Cui, Abby Quinn, Nikki Amuka-Bird and Rupert Grint co-star in the movie. Shyamalan directs Knock at the Cabin from a script he co-wrote with Steve Desmond and Michael Sherman. The film comes from Paul Tremblay‘s book, The Cabin at the End of the World.

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Jumping right on in, what immediately makes itself clear is the movie’s plethora of interesting performances. Dave Bautista is, of course, a familiar face to many thanks to his ongoing, memorable portrayal of Drax in the Guardians of the Galaxy series. The wrestler-turned-actor has been on fire of late, thanks to fun work in Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery.

Of course, Bautista’s physicality is the main thing to leap off the screen. His presence is physically imposing, to say the least. Beyond that, though, the actor easily harnesses a sensitivity and fragility, which not only feels wholly unique to him but also is a beautiful demonstration of his flexibility. He continues to show incredible range beyond the usual “wrestler” action-star archetype. 

Dave Bautista crouches to talk to Ben Aldridge, Jonathan Groff who are tied to chairs. Kristen Cue hugs Aldridge as she listens.

(from left) Andrew (Ben Aldridge), Wen (Kristen Cui), Eric (Jonathan Groff) and Leonard (Dave Bautista) in Knock at the Cabin, directed by M. Night Shyamalan.

The flair in the performances is by far and away the strength of Knock at the Cabin. In fact, it’s potentially to the detriment of the rest of the movie. They’re too good. Groff and Aldrige bring Eric and Andrew to life as a beautifully complex yet relatable couple. Both men are polar opposites, but their performances complement each other with heart-warming simplicity. Groff, it must be said, is too pure for this world. Fans of the talented performer will know this. I want more of him on my movie screens. 

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Meanwhile, Kristen Cui brings their daughter Wen to life with stunning clarity. Her clear-eyed performance avoids falling into the many child actor pitfalls. She’s an incredibly strong talent and should go far.

Ultimately, these dominating and heartfelt performances stand in opposition to a script that, speaking bluntly, really thinks it’s smart. Shyamalan’s screenplay is packed to the gills with deep symbolism and is weighed down with all the clunky exposition and flashbacks needed to make its point. In fact, certain climatic scenes are rendered almost painfully sluggish as the actors struggle to smoothly deliver the weighty exposition. 

Rupert Grint reaches through a broken window in Knock at the Cabin.

Rupert Grint as Redmond in Knock at the Cabin, directed by M. Night Shyamalan.

This leads to a disconnect. The fingers of the screenwriter are all over this picture. The story, and with that, the “twist,” could be delivered with beautiful clarity and grace. These performers and the depths they’re going to in their work could result in heartbreakingly beautiful cinema. The movie just needs to let the actors do their job. Instead, the voices of the behind-the-camera creatives come through, desperately trying to remind us how deep and intellectual they are. 

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It’s unfortunate the script is so weighed down because Shyamalan is pulling out all the stops with his directorial flourishes. His camera is intense and prying. He gives his actors lots of time in extreme, often canted close-ups, studying every inherent intricacy in their performances. There’s no room to hide, and these performers live up to the challenge. 

Knock at the Cabin is a painful example that demonstrates the issues with Shyamalan’s “auteur” style, for lack of a better descriptor. He continues to be a solid director (and a source of delightful cameos); however, the “Shyamalan style” is largely conveyed through the script. In each and every film, he sets out to wow the audience with his ideas and blow our minds with “the twist!”. This has worked with brilliant results, but in recent years there have been more flops than hits. 

Kristen Cui stares inside a jar of grasshopper in Knock at the Cabin.

Kristen Cui as Wen in Knock at the Cabin, directed by M. Night Shyamalan.

Ultimately, those who gel with Knock at the Cabin‘s heavy-handed symbolism and imagery will pull the most enjoyment from this weighty thriller. Fans of this talented cast should also find some enjoyment from these intelligent and well-meaning performances. However, this script is too invested in telling audiences a heavily crafted story instead of letting the visual power do the talking. 

Knock at the Cabin opens in theaters around the country Friday, February 3, 2023. 

Check out our other movie reviews here. 

This review was originally published on 2/2/23.

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Kimberly Pierce
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