February 1, 2023
by Carla Hay
Directed by M. Night Shyamalan
Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in an unnamed city in Pennsylvania, the horror film “Knock at the Cabin” features a racially diverse cast of characters (white, Asian and African American) representing the working-class and middle-class.
Culture Clash: Two husbands and their 7-year-old adopted daughter are held hostage in a remote cabin by four strangers, who tell them that one of the family members must choose to kill another family member, or else there will be an apocalypse that will kill everyone on Earth except the three family members.
Culture Audience: “Knock at the Cabin” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan and horror movies with apocalyptic themes.
The apocalyptic horror film “Knock at the Cabin” has a more predictable story than the novel on which it is based, but the movie still delivers many tension-filled scenes and memorable characters. The cast members, particularly Ben Aldridge and Kristen Cui, elevate the film with their credible performances. “Knock at the Cabin” is one of those movies where you can figure out from watching the trailers how everything is probably going to end. It’s one of the few movies from filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan that does not have a shocking twist.
Shyamalan directed “Knock at the Cabin” and co-wrote the movie’s screenplay with Steve Desmond and Michael Sherman. The movie’s screenplay is adapted from Paul Tremblay’s 2018 novel “The Cabin at the End of the World,” which has a very different turn of events than the movie version of this book. It’s easy to see why the filmmakers chose to make these changes, because there are many things in the book that would not be as “crowd-pleasing” to movie audiences.
Even though “Knock at the Cabin” plays it very safe in how the movie was adapted from the book, there’s still enough in the movie that brings a level of gripping suspense, thanks to skilled editing and capable acting performances. Except for flashbacks and scenes showing events on TV news, “Knock at the Cabin” takes place primarily in a remote area in an unnamed city in Pennsylvania. The filmmakers of “Knock at the Cabin” wisely chose not to clutter up the movie with extraneous characters and locations that are not in “The Cabin at the End of the World.”
“Knock at the Cabin” begins with showing a kind and intelligent 7-year-old girl named Wen (played by Cui) collecting grasshoppers in an open field and putting them in a bottle. Wen is an aspiring veterinarian—she says she wants to be “take care of animals” when she grows up. She is cataloguing the statistics of the grasshoppers that she has collected, and she has even named the grasshoppers. Wen (who is an only child) and her two gay fathers Andrew (played by Aldridge) and Eric (played by Jonathan Groff) are on a vacation trip in this isolated wooded area of Pennsylvania, where the family is staying at a cabin.
Suddenly, a hulking man named Leonard (played by Dave Bautista) emerges from the woods. He approaches Wen and makes small talk with her. At first Wen is wary of this stranger, but she starts to warm up to him when he shows an interest in her grasshopper collection by helping her get a grasshopper and asking her about the collection. Wen says she will turn 8 years old in six days. Leonard tells Wen that he wants to be her friend and he needs to go inside the home where her parents are.
Leonard is not alone. He has three companions with him, who all have the same intentions. Redmond (played by Rupert Grint) has an angry personality. Sabrina (played by Nikki Amuka-Bird) has a calm personality. Adriane (played by Abby Quinn) has a cheerful personality. Leonard is their leader, and he has a “take charge” personality. All four of these strangers are armed and dangerous.
As already shown in the movie’s trailers, all four of these strangers break into the cabin and take Andrew, Eric and Wen hostage. Andrew and Eric put up a fight in self-defense. Eric gets into a losing brawl with Sabrina, and he gets a concussion from being knocked to the ground. Andrew and Eric are then tied to chairs, although (as the movie trailer already reveals) Wen is not tied up, and she briefly escapes.
Leonard tells this captured family that they have to make a choice: someone in the family has to voluntarily kill someone else in the family, or else there will be an apocalypse where everyone on Earth except this family of three will be killed. Every time someone in the family refuses to kill someone else in the family, a plague will descend on Earth until the world-ending apocalypse will happen.
Andrew (the more outspoken and more assertive husband) is immediately skeptical and thinks that these four strangers are mentally ill. Andrew mentions later in the movie that he’s a human rights attorney, which goes a long way in explaining why Andrew thinks he can argue his way out of this horrible situation. At first, Andrew and Eric also think that this home invasion is a hate crime because Andrew and Eric are a gay couple. But Leonard denies it and says that he and his three cohorts did not know in advance that the targeted family would have a same-sex couple.
Andrew and Eric refuse to kill anyone in their family. As already shown in the movie’s trailer, as a result, a plague happens that kills numerous people near the Pacific Ocean. (Shyamalan continues his tradition of appearing in small roles as an actor in the movies that he directs. In “Knock at the Cabin,” he briefly appears on the cabin’s TV set as a host on a home-shopping show that is interrupted by breaking news.) Leonard shows the family the TV news to prove that this plague happening.
Andrew is convinced that the four strangers knew in advance that this catastrophe was going to happen. Leonard insists that he, Sabrina, Leonard and Adriane were all strangers with the same visions who found each other through the Internet. Leonard also says that several families over time have had to make the same decision. And he emphatically states that he, Sabrina, Leonard and Adriane are “heartbroken” that they have to force Andrew and Eric to make this life-changing decision.
In order to make themselves relatable, Leonard and the rest of the home invaders tells the captured family more about themselves. Leonard says he’s from Chicago and has two jobs: He’s an elementary schoolteacher who runs an after-school program for second graders, and he’s a bartender.
Sabrina is a hospital nurse who works at an intensive-care unit in Southern California. She says she feel guilty about Eric getting injured in their fight, so she tends to Eric’s head wounds. Sabrina also says that the rules are that Eric must be thinking clearly when making his decision with Andrew. But who exactly is making these “rules”?
Adriane says she’s a line cook at a Mexican restaurant in Washington, D.C. “I love to feed people,” she adds. Later in the movie, Adriane says she has a pre-teen son named Charlie, and she begs the hostage family to not let the apocalypse happen, or else her son is going to die.
Redmond is an ex-con who works at a gas company in Medford, Massachusetts. He mentions coming from an abusive family where “my father used to beat the shit out of me.” Later, Andrew is convinced that he knows Redmond from a traumatic event that happened in Andrew’s past.
As the tension builds over what decision will be made, “Knock at the Cabin” shows flashbacks of Andrew and Eric’s life together before this home invasion. Viewers will find out that Andrew’s parents (played by McKenna Kerrigan and Ian Merrill Peakes) disapprove of him being gay, while Eric’s mother (who is never seen in the movie) is accepting of Eric’s sexuality. Andrew and Eric also went to China to adopt Wen when she was a baby, but Andrew had to pretend to be the brother of Eric’s non-existent wife, in order to avoid any homophobic restrictions that would prevent them from adopting Wen.
There are also flashbacks to happy family times with Andrew, Eric and Wen, such as when they’re driving in their car while K.C. and the Sunshine Band’s 1975 hit song “Boogie Shoes” is playing. Andrew, Eric and Wen love this song so much, they sing loudly and joyfully move to the beat of the song. “Boogie Shoes” will be used again later in the movie in an emotionally powerful scene.
Because “Knock at the Cabin” is a horror movie, not everyone will make it out alive. At a certain point, it becomes very obvious which of the husbands will be more open to the idea of killing someone in the family, in order to save the world. But will that husband be able to convince his spouse?
There are no real surprises in “Knock at the Cabin,” except for how much the movie removed some of the risk-taking plot developments from “The Cabin at the End of the World.” With a total running time of 100 minutes, “Knock at the Cabin” is a taut thriller that doesn’t drag on for longer than the story needed, although some parts of the movie get a little repetitive. Knock at the Cabin” is a very Hollywood movie version of the book, but it’s ultimately satisfactory entertainment for horror fans who don’t want to see anything too disturbing on screen.
Universal Pictures will release “Knock at the Cabin” in U.S. cinemas on February 3, 2023.