Knock on a different cabin. M.Night Shyamalan’s latest horror film Knock at the Cabin attempts to explore thoughtful themes but the storytelling is clunky due to the poor plotting and contrived character development. Moreover, this is a case wherein film form is employed as a tool to compensate for underdeveloped meaning and story structure. Where the film excels is in the characters and casting. Yes, the character development is contrived, but I appreciate Shyamalan’s character mix. In particular, it’s a refreshing mix because the fact the parents are a same-sex couple doesn’t factor heavily into the plot nor become a sermon, like it so often does. It simply is and that’s it. Furthermore, the casting of not only the central parental couple, but all of the characters shines because of the realistic representation of everyman. Bautista is provided a platform to portray a much different character than he has in the past, which is fantastic to witness! He is given an conduit through which he can more freely exercise his acting chops. Visually, the film is striking; there is an emotive dimension to the montage of the motion picture and the cinematography. Again, the film form is outstanding! Unfortunately, the screenplay is lacking the same degree of thought that was found in the technical approach to crafting this film.
While vacationing at a remote cabin in the woods, a young girl and her parents are taken hostage by four armed strangers who demand they make an unthinkable choice to avert the apocalypse. Confused, scared and with limited access to the outside world, the family must decide what they believe before all is lost.
Knock at the Cabin excels in montage and cinematography because of how the eye of the camera oscillates between subjective and objective placement, much in the same way our own eye (and mind’s eye) operates in real life. Treating the camera as our own eyes allows Shyamalan a brilliant opportunity to bring the audience into the narrative. Unfortunately, this is hampered by the clunky storytelling. However, because of the stylistic choices for camera placement and scene framing, the film is successful in delivering an unsettling mood and suspense with the camera (in a Hitchcockian manner). Furthermore, the film proves to be exemplary in the area of montage (or dramatic film assembly) demonstrated by the stylistic choices that provide the film with steady pacing and guiding our focus from character to character or scene to scene. While the story may be lacking refinement, the editing crafts a visual narrative that is lean and mean.
Struggling narratively, the film fails to sufficiently provide thoughtful critique (or commentary) on any area on which it concerns itself. I don’t mean to sound vague, but to discuss the themes, symbolism, or commentary would require me to divulge spoilers. What I can say, without getting into spoilers, is that there is an attempt to critique: preconceived opinions or judgments of people, willful disbelief in the face of evidence, and toxic ideologies. I appreciate what Shyamalan set out to accomplish; it’s clear that this film was supposed to be a vessel to foster conversations about the themes and subtext, but no single area of theme or subtext was setup or developed adequately. We receive glimpses in the dots Shyamalan attempted to connect, but they are glimpses at best. Flashbacks are used as a tool to provide clarity on present conflicts, but that (often abused) storytelling tool is wielded ineffectively and wastefully.
Ryan teaches Film Studies and Screenwriting at the University of Tampa and is a member of the Critics Association of Central Florida and Indie Film Critics of America. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter. If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with him.