“Knock at the Cabin” is a Bland Thriller


Shyamalan’s latest thriller is underwhelming, despite the convincing performance by Dave Bautista. (Courtesy of Twitter)

During a visit to an amusement park when I was much younger, I remember seeing an amateur magic show. Accompanied by a large cannon onstage, the magician claimed he could shoot a volunteer from the audience out of the cannon and across the room. Instead, he had one kid get in the cannon and another run to the other side of the room as if they had been shot out. I suppose he thought this trick would appeal to the younger crowd, but I couldn’t help but feel ripped off. After all, I was promised something more exciting. M. Night Shyamalan’s horror thriller “Knock at the Cabin” is the cinematic equivalent of this kind of cheap, manipulative spectacle. It has the form of a thriller, a form it clearly knows quite well, but beyond its knowledge of generic conventions lies an empty void; the film simply forgets to show the audience anything new or exciting. The story concerns a vacationing family of three who are suddenly held hostage in their own cabin by four religious zealots who claim that they must offer one of themselves up as a sacrifice in order to prevent the apocalypse. 

The whole cast does a fine job with the less-than-stellar material they’ve been presented with, especially Dave Bautista as Leonard, the leader of the invaders. He’s gentle and placid in his demeanor, but one gets the sense that this character could blow up at any minute. Bautista’s humble respect for his craft and his imposing physique collide to create an antagonist whose uneasy warmth sends shivers down the spine. 

It’s a shame that the rest of the film can’t do anything right. The suspense and unpredictability that characterizes the thriller genre is almost entirely absent, and the plot stays a little too true to the initial premise. The Wikipedia summary for the film is probably just as, if not more, exciting than the actual picture. The bland predictability of the screenplay is made only worse by the horrendous stilted dialogue. None of the characters speak like real people and they might as well have just sat around listing the themes of the film for an hour and 40 minutes, although even that would be like spreading too much butter over too small a piece of toast. The film’s core arguments are just far too obvious and contrived to be interesting, which mostly stems from its over reliance on cliché religious imagery like the four horsemen of the apocalypse and the seven deadly sins. 

Admittedly, there are some striking, if not arbitrary, visual moments. The camera moves around and settles on its subjects haphazardly, forgoing atmosphere and mood in favor of satisfying visual composition. The cinematography and editing are simply limp and weightless, making for a thriller that seems to have forgotten what its purpose is — to thrill. “Knock at the Cabin” is an ineffective bland thriller that, like a punctured bike tire, has had all the air completely sucked out of it, making for a faulty final product. It’s a movie, but not much else.