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February 3, 2023 / Universal Pictures Canada

Starring: Dave Bautista, Rupert Grint, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Jonathan Groff, Ben Aldridge

Directed By: M. Night Shyamalan

While vacationing at a remote cabin, a young girl and her parents are taken hostage by four armed strangers who demand that the family make an unthinkable choice to avert the apocalypse. With limited access to the outside world, the family must decide what they believe before all is lost.

Written By Darren

Rating 4 out of 5

Knock at the Cabin is a nail biting, edge of your seat thriller with two outstanding performances from Dave Bautista and Ben Aldridge, making for one of the best films of M. Night Shyamalan’s career.

There are very few directors as widely known and divisive as M. Night Shyamalan. He has created some of the most memorable thrillers over the past two and a half decades, including The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, as well as what are arguably some of the worst films ever made, such as The Happening and The Last Airbender. The second you see his name attached to a film, you immediately know you are about to experience something wild: either wildly good or wildly bad. And while I have to admit that the trailer for his latest film, Knock at the Cabin, did not fully sell me on his latest film, within minutes I was completely immersed in the story and captivated all the way to the end credits.

Set in primarily one location, the film tells the story of a family on vacation at a cabin in the woods, taken hostage by armed strangers demanding that they sacrifice one of them in order to save humanity avert the apocalypse. The story goes down the path you expect it to, though the events that occur are truly startling and unnerving as they occur. I was taken back by the gore and violence at times, but it is tastefully displayed with camera angles that imply the brutality but restrain from showing everything, leaving your imagination to fill in the terrifying gaps. The result is a heart pounding thrill ride filled with dread and an impalpable terror that will have you holding your breath to the film’s conclusion.

While the dialogue is Shyamalan’s usual caliber that is clunky at times, there is so much to unpack within the story. The religious themes at play with the four strangers being stand-ins for the four horsemen of the apocalypse, the sacrifice needed to save the world, as well as themes of otherness, prejudice and morality creates a collection of characters that are neither good nor bad, but merely human. Despite the strangers holding them hostage, you can see their humanity and their prophetic drive to save the world, despite their dark and brutal methods to do so.

Given this is a Shyamalan film, audiences are anticipating a twist at the end as that is the director’s signature calling card. And while there are twists throughout the film, the big reveal at the end avoids pulling the carpet out from under the audience. Instead, Shyamalan slightly overexplains his themes in the final moments, but the emotional aspects of the finale are so powerful that you forget about the lack of a twist as you are overcome by a tsunami of emotions

For a while, Dave Bautista has been saying that he wants to be more than just a wrestler turned actor, but a great actor. And with his performance in this film, you immediately forget his past as a wrestler as he gives a career best performance. As Leonard, the leader of the four strangers, Bautista finds a true tenderness to his character despite his menacing appearance. It’s an alarming combination that allows you to see the goodness in him, but at the same time leaves you terrified of him, especially in the film’s final act. It’s a tough character to believably create on screen, but Bautista is magnificent throughout the film, creating one of the most unnerving characters to grace the silver screen in recent memory.

Opposite Bautista as one of the fathers of the family the strangers have taken hostage is Ben Aldridge. Much like Bautista, Aldridge is outstanding in his role. He perfectly captures the disbelief his character is experiencing, at the same time preserving the fierce fight to protect his family from the individuals holding them hostage. Filling his performance with intensity, Aldridge is the perfect counterpart to Bautista’s towering presence, quickly proving himself as a phenomenal lead actor between this performance and his work in last year’s Spoiler Alert. While it is Bautista and Aldridge who steal the show, the supporting cast are all great and deliver memorable turns, ensuring that there is not a bad performance anywhere in the film.

Driving the intensity of the film is Herdís Stefánsdóttir’s atmospheric and chilling musical score. While the musical score remains in the background for the first two acts, quietly supporting the building terror of the story, Stefánsdóttir unleashes the music in the final act. The score goes from zero to hundred in a matter of seconds, with Stefánsdóttir capturing the chaos of the story with a bombastic wall of sound that adds to the uncontrollable suspense of the story.

Aside from Shyamalan’s weak script, the film has an overreliance on flashbacks. Their purpose is to help build the story’s themes of prejudice and otherness, but the themes are fairly obvious and the flashbacks do not add much to the story development. Instead, they slightly derail the building tension within the cabin as the audience is removed for a quick scene, before being plunged back into what audiences have come to experience. And while the cinematography is great at times to suggest the violence in creative ways, the overuse of extreme close ups was a lot to handle at times. The camera is zoomed in so tight on each individual actor that you miss what else is happening in the cabin, which at times works in the storytelling’s favour, but for the most part is visually distracting. But these are minor complaints, because the overall experience is both intoxicating and absolutely terrifying.

Not only is it one of the best films of the year so far, but Knock at the Cabin is a return to form for M. Night Shyamalan and one of the best of his illustrious career, proving him to be a true master of suspense. Led by a career best performance from Dave Bautista and an outstanding Ben Aldridge, Knock at the Cabin will have your knuckles turning white as you will be holding on for dear life in this truly terrifying thrill ride that is one you cannot afford to miss!

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