Review: Tense ‘Knock at the Cabin’ trips over anticlimactic ending

(Universal Pictures)

M. Night Shyamalan has another high-concept thriller in theaters, but this time, it deals with the threat of an oncoming worldwide apocalypse that can be stalled if a gay male couple and their adoptive daughter can overcome their fear and doubt and make a world-saving decision.

That’s the basic plot to “Knock at the Cabin,” Shyamalan’s adaptation of Paul G. Tremblay’s psychological horror novel “The Cabin at the End of the World.” I’ve not read the novel, but evidently Shyamalan’s ending doesn’t exactly marry up to the book’s.

Shyamalan is a director who has both thrilled and disappointed his audience over the years with films such as his stunning masterpiece “The Sixth Sense” and flops like “Lady in the Water.”

This movie falls somewhere in the middle of those. “Knock at the Cabin” offers the tension and chills that characterize the best of Shyamalan’s output, but it also proves to be about as anticlimactic as some of his other movies like “Glass” or “The Village.”

“Knock at the Cabin” no doubt offers some chilling moments that are up there with the best of the director’s work, but unfortunately the movie’s payoff just left me wanting more. It just failed to live up to the director’s finer work in the twist department.

Shyamalan’s twists are the biggest reason I want to buy a ticket for the films he directs. He’s known for subverting expectations, but the only way he comes close to accomplishing that in this film is by not giving us a twist at all. It’s a bit of a dirty trick.

If you’ve seen the well crafted trailers, you’ve basically seen the gist of the film.

While the ending did let me down, I was entertained and on the edge of my seat for about two-thirds of the film. Shyamalan knows how to frame moody shots, and he builds tension better than most of his contemporaries.

Kristen Cui, Jonathan Groff, and Ben Aldridge in Knock at the Cabin (Universal Pictures)

Johnathan Groff as Eric and Ben Aldridge as Andrew are couple on vacation with their adoptive Chinese-American daughter Wen (Kristen Cui). They are staying in a remote cabin in a wooded area, where they are taken by surprise by four assailants, led by soft-spoken and deliberate Leonard, hulkingly played by former pro wrestler Dave Bautista.

The other three are post-op nurse Sabrina (Nikki Amuka-Bird), short-order cook Adriane (Abby Quinn), and ex-con gas worker Redmond (Rupert Grint). Each of them are armed with barbaric-type weapons fashioned out of tools, and they rather obviously represent the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (Conquest, War, Famine, and Plague) mentioned in “The Revelation” Chapter 6 of the Bible. Shyamalan’s foursome represents them in his films as guidance, healing, nurturing, and malice, which might have come from the novel, but not the Bible.

After a violent fight, the two fathers are bound in chairs while little Wen wipers in fear. They are then informed that two of them must kill the other as a sacrifice within the next 24 hours to halt the oncoming devastation, which is already creating tidal waves and dropping airplanes from the sky.

Eric is wounded from the fight, and Andrew, a human wrights lawyer, doesn’t believe the quartet’s mumbo jumbo until their assailants begin to sacrifice each other as part of the judgment of humanity.

As a viewer, I awaited the twist until the film was done, and felt bummed out that it didn’t really offer one, or at least not one that I found satisfactory. Instead of the normal payoff Shyamalan serves his audience, I felt like he sneakily ran off without giving me what I paid for.

While I was disappointed in the moment, Shyamalan did keep me riveted for a good portion of the movie’s running time, but overall it left me feeling like a hasty waiter had snagged my plate while I had my head turned, taking away about a third of my dinner before I was done.

(R) 1 hr. 40 min.
Grade: C-

New in Local Theaters – Feb. 3, 2023

BTS: Yet to Come (NR) 1 hr. 44 min. (trailer)(AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Pinnacle)

Knock at the Cabin (R) 1 hr. 40 min. (trailer)(AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Springdale, Rogers Towne, Malco Pinnacle, Skylight)

80 for Brady (PG-13) 1 hr. 38 min. (trailer)(AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Springdale, Rogers Towne, Malco Pinnacle, Skylight)

Freedom’s Path (R) 2 hr. 10 min (trailer)(AMC Fiesta Square)

The Amazing Maurice (PG) 1 hr. 33 min. (trailer)(AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Pinnacle)

Locally shot ‘Freedom’s Path’ now playing at AMC Fiesta Square

(Rocket Soul Studios / 1812 Films)

A historical drama shot in Northwest Arkansas opens today at the AMC Fiesta Square Cinema in Fayetteville

Filmmaker Brett Smith’s 12-year labor of love “Freedom’s Path,” which had its debut last April at the Cinefest Film and Creativity Festival held in San Jose and Redwood City, Calif., tells the story of the Underground Railroad through the eyes of a Union Army deserter William (Gerran Howell) and a free black man Kitch (R.J. Cryer), who offers compassion to the young soldier, who wounds himself in an attempt to escape the horrors of war.

Smith and the films’ producers are donating a portion of the film’s profits to several historically Black colleges.

Just from the film’s trailer, it’s easy to notice the familiar Northwest Arkansas terrain as the film’s setting, including a beautiful sunrise with low-hanging mist rising from a field.

The movie received middling reviews from its screenings at film festivals with criticisms of the film’s pacing and narrative flow being issues, but leads Howell and Cryer received praise for their performances.

Smith also garnered praise for having the chutzpah to bring his passion project and vision to the screen. Considering the odds, just getting his film in front of a national audience is a victory and a reward in itself.

Classic Corner – The Philadelphia Story

Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, James Stewart, and Ruth Hussey in The Philadelphia Story (MGM Studios)

If you are looking for a movie to grease the wheels for Valentine’s Day, “The Philadelphia Story” is a pure delight from 1940, capturing a time when Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn, and Jimmy Stewart were at the height of their prowess.

Director George Cukor pits Hepburn and Grant against each other as a divorced couple, who just can’t seem to get out of each other’s way and don’t really want to in this screwball comedy.

The crux of the movie is whether Grant is on hand to torture his ex-wife before her wedding or to win her back? I don’t think his character even knows until halfway through the film.

In his Oscar-winning role, Stewart plays a tabloid journalist who falls hard for socialite Hepburn while on assignment covering her impending nuptials.

The drunken scene between Hepburn and Stewart is the best in the movie, and it somewhat foreshadows Stewart’s “lasso the moon” scene from “It’s a Wonderful Life” with Donna Reed nearly a decade and a World War later.

It’s a difficult task to upstage Grant, but to my mind Stewart did in this wonderful movie. The chemistry between Stewart and Hepburn crackles.

The shrewish role fit Hepburn’s personae perfectly, although she gives as good as she takes in the film where she is determined not to just settle as so many would have her do. She endeavors to live the life she wants, not the one expected of her. Bold stuff for 1940.

Grant, of course, is his suave self in the movie, but he is somewhat the straight man in the movie with Hepburn and Stewart tackling showier roles.

However, he gets the last laugh as the chess board he sets up plays out exactly like he wants.

The film is a milder example of the screwball comedy in that it’s not quite as silly or slapstick as “Bringing Up Baby,” or “Holiday,” but that actually benefits the film, at least to my taste.

Many feel “The Philadelphia Story” is the best romantic comedy of Hollywood’s golden-age period. I can’t find a solid argument against that opinion.

The film is showing on HBO Max and is available to rent on most cable services.