“Knock at the Cabin:” It’s the end of the world as we know it

With the arrival of four ominous strangers, terror is just around the corner. Photo courtesy of Universal Studios. 

NATHAN SIMKINS | STAFF REPORTER | nsimkins@butler.edu  

Mankind is on the edge of the apocalypse.  

With the end of the world potentially moments away in Universal’s newest thriller “Knock at the Cabinfrom writer and director M. Night Shyamalan, only one family can save humanity from doom. In classic Shyamalan fashion, his new film has caused a divide amongst viewers on how they feel about it. The divisiveness of Shyamalan’s films, with some offering praise and others bashing it at this point, is almost expected along with a successful opening at the box office. The thriller debuted with a global $21 million opening weekend knocking out “Avatar: the Way of Water” for the number one spot at the box office and has garnered a wide variety of positive and negative reviews. The acclaimed novel the film is based on, “The Cabin at the End of the World by author Paul G. Tremblay, is a 2018 bestseller according to Vox, which has substantially added to the hype surrounding this release.  

The beginning of the end? 

At the center of the story are husbands Andrew and Eric, played by Ben Aldridge and Jonathan Groff, taking a trip to a cabin deep in the woods with their daughter Wen, played by Kristen Cui. What begins as a fun and much needed getaway quickly turns into a nightmare when four strangers, including a man named Learnard played by Dave Bautista, mysteriously appear at their cabin, threatening their lives.

The film deals with not only the sheer terror this family experiences from a home invasion but also the grim reality when they learn the horrifying and apocalyptic motive for why their attackers have decided to invade their cabin. The family is told that they must choose to willingly sacrifice one of themselves, and if they fail to choose, the world will end. However, the true emotional core and driving force of the film is about the strength of family, the consequences of our choices and how far a person is willing to go to protect their family. All of this leads to the lingering question that challenges the audience: given the choice, would you save your family or humanity? These themes wrapped within an unrelenting and bone-chilling thriller make for a great time at the movies. 

What has made “Knock at the Cabin” stand out to audiences and critics alike is that the film isn’t interested in just telling a simple horrifying home invasion thriller. It challenges the audience to think deeper about all the smaller details. Throughout the entire runtime, characters are presented with incredibly difficult moral decisions, and through those moments the audience learns about the complexity of what these characters represent in the overall meaning of the film. Shyamalan, along with screenwriters Steve Desmond and Michael Sherman, do not waste a single moment to add these deeper complexities to the events of the story. This includes not only biblical mythology like the apocalypse, but also references through the plot of the film that show commentary on society and people through the characters. A key commentary that the film tackles is Andrew and Eric’s fear of both familial and public acceptance of their marriage, even more so as they are raising a child. As with any film that has this extra edge to it, there are more layers to the film to think about, making for a unique narrative.  

Jeff Herschberger, first-year creative media and entertainment major, expressed how he feels that when watching films that make the audience think deeper and reflect, it helps to create a more significant and impactful viewing experience.  

“I would say that there is something very satisfying and very rewarding about watching a movie that really makes you think about things,” Herschberger said, “It just makes the movie better. Even if it is a comedy or a superhero movie or an action movie, there’s always the possibility and the ability for there to be a deeper message in there.”  

Don’t knock it yet 

Beyond effectively balancing thrills with meaning, the film also balances telling a massive story in a small, confined space. Practically the entire runtime is spent in one small location, making the audience feel like they are submerged in the film experiencing all the terror with Andrew, Eric and Wen. Many critics have pointed out that smaller scale and emotionally impactful films like “Knock at the Cabin,” “The Sixth Sense” or “Split” are when Shyamalan is at his best as a writer. 

On a visual level, there is incredible filmmaking on display. Shot primarily in just one location, the cinematography and choice of camera movements in particular generate an incredibly unique and atmospheric experience that keeps the tension present and disturbing while also making the film feel very singular and distinct. This is a testament to not only Shyamalan’s directing abilities but also the great work of co-cinematographers Jarin Blaschke and Lowell A. Meyer.  

In his career Shyamalan has gained many supporters, but he has also gained many vocal critics, leading to him becoming a very distinct and divisive filmmaker. Claire Mizimakoski, first-year nursing major at Purdue University, believes that many of M. Night Shyamalan’s past films have not been good at all.  

“He is a very controversial director, and I will admit that some of his projects like ‘Split’ are impressive,” Mizimakoski said, “I know him most for his work on ‘The Last Airbender,’ which is a movie that is widely hated, but especially hated by me.”  

Will Fella, first-year business major, feels that the public discourse surrounding Shyamalan as a filmmaker drastically varies but mainly leans negative.  

“[People’s opinion of Shyamalan’s work is] either very positive or very negative. I feel like there’s really no in between,” Fella said. “I hear more about the bad than the good though. I always hear about ‘The Last Airbender.’”  

Not surprisingly, “Knock at the Cabin” has received a strong mix of both positive and negative reviews. The film currently sits at a 68% critic score and a 65% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes.  

It’s the end of the world, and not everyone feels fine. 

A common criticism that the film has received is that the ending doesn’t build to anything significant, or parts of the story are only half thought out. The New York Times says that, “There is a grandiosity here that’s hard to swallow, and a final swell of emotion that isn’t quite earned. For all its skill and cunning, ‘Knock at the Cabin’ is an overwrought quasi-theological melodrama that also manages to be a half-baked thought experiment.”  

Another common point of debate among audience members is whether the new ending, which diverts from the book, is an improvement on the story or an inclusion that worsens it. Debate amongst the ending of a Shyamalan film is not unique to “Knock at the Cabin.” Shyamalan is perhaps the most notorious filmmaker when it comes to twist endings that either masterfully or horribly wrap up his stories. 

It’s hard to deny that for better or worse M. Night Shyamalan’s films usually take risks and offer viewing experiences that are wildly unique and original. “Knock at the Cabin” is the latest of his films to accomplish this. It has become one of the biggest movies of the year thus far and has successfully brought unique and complex storytelling to a popular film of its scale.  

“Knock at the Cabin” was released on Feb. 3 and is currently playing in theaters everywhere.


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