Movies about the world ending are released regularly — “Bird Box,” “A Quiet Place” and “WALL-E” come to mind. There’s always a big scary threat to the world, sometimes one that has done its damage before the movie starts. Add M. Night Shyamalan’s “Knock at the Cabin” to this list, with a twist: We don’t know exactly what the big scary thing is, why it’s happening or if it’s even real.
Eric (Jonathan Groff, “Frozen”), Andrew (Ben Aldridge, “Spoiler Alert”) and their adopted daughter Wen (Kristen Cui, “CaliStar: Don’t Give Up”) are vacationing at a scenic cabin in the woods when four strangers arrive with handcrafted axes and pitchfork-like weapons. They knock at the cabin, threatening to break in if no one opens the door. Eric and Andrew opt not to let the armed intruders casually enter their cabin. This can’t stop Leonard (Dave Bautista, “Guardians of the Galaxy”), Redmond (Rupert Grint, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”), Adriane (Abby Quinn, “Little Women”) and Sabrina (Nikki Amuka Bird, “Old”) from barging in. They tell Eric, Andrew and Wen that in order to save the world, one family member must be killed by another and sacrificed.
I assumed that whether or not the movie’s plot was strong, I would at least get a few suspenseful moments and a surprising finale. I was wrong. Shyamalan’s signature twists and supernatural storyline weren’t present throughout. Instead, the film followed a predictable narrative. For a movie about the apocalypse, “Knock at the Cabin” was rarely exciting or nerve-racking. The only ounce of fear I felt was for 7-year-old Wen, who stole the show time and time again with her curiosity and cuteness.
Still, she never seemed to be in much danger, and neither did Eric or Andrew. These four intruders seemed genuinely nice. While that dynamic is good for laughs, it’s not great for fear or suspense. Each stranger introduces themself with some background information about their home life, profession and family, which goes against what makes a strong villain — lack of humanity. About 10 minutes in, they were no longer strangers; I actually liked most of them. Although that helps viewers relate to the characters, “Knock at the Cabin” lost almost all of its intrigue from there on out. The group did threaten to harm Eric and Andrew by stabbing or whacking their legs with their homemade weapons if they attempted to escape, but there wasn’t much action or danger beyond that, and it was obvious that none of the intruders would ever attempt to murder them.
I badly wanted the ending to change my mind about the previous 90 minutes, but there was hardly a plot to twist. The ending did have much more of an emotional impact than I expected. There is always death in horror, and with almost all of the characters being relatable, it was upsetting to watch some of them die.
“Knock at the Cabin” is unpredictable in the exact opposite way I would have liked. I expected the unexpected and instead left this movie feeling cheated. Strong performances from most of the cast made this movie feel not entirely pointless, but unfortunately, they were not enough to save the predictable plot and almost immediate loss of suspense.
Daily Arts Writer Laura Millar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.