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Movie review: M. Night Shyamalan's 'Knock at the Cabin' is intense, dark

M. Night Shyamalan is a director known for his twist endings, and his newest offering, "Knock at the Cabin," is dark and intense.

PORTLAND, Maine — [Editor's note: This article is a critical analysis of a film and doesn't represent the views of NEWS CENTER Maine, but that of the author.]

The newest film from director M. Night Shyamalan is out this weekend, and it's not for the faint of heart. "Knock at the Cabin" comes from a director that is known for his twist endings, the most famous being "The Sixth Sense." 

The Story

"Knock at the Cabin" is based on a 2018 novel called "The Cabin at the End of the World." It's a psychological thriller about two dads who take their adopted daughter on vacation to a remote cabin in Pennsylvania. 

Jonathan Groff plays one father named Eric, and the other, Andrew, is portrayed by Ben Aldridge. Their daughter's name is Wen, played by Kristen Cui. 

The film opens innocently enough with Wen catching grasshoppers and placing them in a large jar full of leaves and twigs. She catches around four, names and logs them, and tells the creatures she plans to study them for a little bit.

It isn't long until a stranger by the name of Leonard (Dave Bautista) shows up and asks to be Wen's newest friend. She reluctantly agrees, and the two catch grasshoppers together for a bit until three other strangers show up outside the cabin. 

Their names are Sabina (Nikki Amuka-Bird), Adriane (Abby Quinn), and Redmond (Rupert Grint). Each of them is carrying a weapon. 

Wen runs inside the cabin and calls her fathers in from the back patio. It's then the strangers break into the house, tie up Eric and Andrew, and inform the couple they must choose a person in their present family to sacrifice in order to stop the apocalypse. 

Faced with an impossible choice, the strangers describe visions they've seen about the end of the world and reveal that each time the family refuses to pick a sacrifice amongst them, millions of people will die in a planetary tragedy. 

As the strangers turn on the television to a news broadcast and reveal terrible events underway, Eric, Andrew, and Wen have to decide if their captors are telling the truth, and whether they'll make the necessary sacrifice to stop the end of mankind. 

Credit: AP
This image released by Universal Pictures shows Ben Aldridge, from left, Kristen Cui, and Jonathan Groff in a scene from "Knock at the Cabin." (Universal Pictures via AP)


"Knock at the Cabin" is a well-made movie, and there's not a bad performance in the entire film. But Bautista steals the show as a Chicago second-grade teacher, desperate to ensure his students survive the impending apocalypse. 

Bautista's steady, focused performance shows he's to be taken seriously as a great actor. 

Groff and Aldridge also do well in their roles, whether trying to escape a nightmare scenario or revealing pieces of their loving lives together in a few flashbacks sprinkled throughout "Knock at the Cabin." 

The bigotry same-sex couples face is front and center in this film as Eric and Andrew wonder if they've been targeted for their relationship, or if they truly are caught in an impending apocalypse. 

The cabin is a claustrophobic setting, and it just adds to the stifling atmosphere, which serves as the other strength of this intense psychological horror story. "Knock at the Cabin" truly feels as though a small group of people is watching the end of the world while in the middle of nowhere. 

Composer Herdís Stefánsdóttir's score complemented the terror of this violent story where the stakes could not be higher. 

For those expecting a standard Shyamalan twist to come at the end of the film, the director instead chose to keep the story straightforward. This isn't "The Village" or "The Happening." 

And yet, despite avoiding the twist that has become something of a stereotype for his craft, Shyamalan can't help himself with his usual camera tropes. From start to finish, "Knock at the Cabin" is full of distracting angles and zooms that only serve to agitate in an otherwise well-made movie. 

It's not necessary to begin the movie with tight shots of Bautista's and Cui's faces. If the director thought that would only add to the tension, he would have been better served playing the camerawork a little safer. 

For this being a Rated R movie that seeks to shock with some of its violence, there's not much gore as "Knock at the Cabin" keeps its horror focussed almost entirely on the pressure it places on this poor family. 

Shyamalan's record is filled with movies both good and bad, but "Knock at the Cabin" manages to end up in the former category. For those that have read the book, the film does diverge from its story before the end. 

Also playing this week

"80 for Brady" is another film opening this weekend that New England fans may enjoy. It has plenty of familiar names attached, including Jane Fonda and Rita Moreno (along with the aforementioned football star). 

On Netflix, a film called "True Spirit" is out this weekend, based on the story of a real Aussie girl named Jessica Watson who sailed around the globe unassisted and without stopping. 

To see which movies are playing at a theater near you, click here

For more movie thoughts, follow Courtney on Twitter, here.

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