Okay, so, I believe I wrote somewhere recently that I am trying not to be so critical. I know this is difficult as the root word from that adjective is my self-appointed job. The director of the new release I saw this weekend, M. Knight Shyamalan, makes abstaining from too much criticism harder. That movie, by the way, is Knock at the Cabin. Shyamalan developed a reputation for having a twist at the end of all his films. With The Sixth Sense (1999), it is that Dr. Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis) is already dead; in The Village (2004), the title locale exists in modern times and not the seventeenth century; and for The Last Airbender (2010), it is that the movie was made. Darn it, there I go again. However, cut me some slack. The fact that Shyamalan went for mind-bending reveals at the end became a punchline, so much so that he tried going away from this formula. The Last Airbender underscores how hard it is to break a mold. I dislike Knock at the Cabin for other reasons, and this is all to provide context.
We jump right into Knock at the Cabin with eight-year-old Wen (Kristen Cui) not far from the little house in the woods collecting grasshoppers. She is soon approached by a stranger named Leonard (Dave Bautista). His gentle, kindly words disarm her wariness of strangers, and they begin conversing. She is eventually creeped out by two different things. To start, he begins to talk about how much he needs to get inside their house and speak to her two dads, the gay couple Andrew (Ben Aldridge) and Eric (Jonathan Groff). The other is the arrival of three others. We will get to them in a moment. For now, Wen runs into the cabin and warns her dads that they are about to be visited by people who seem to be up to no good. They do not take their daughter seriously at first, but when they look out the window and see them all armed with crude weapons, they hurriedly lock the doors, close the windows, and do what they can to barricade themselves. It goes for naught as they get in anyway. Once inside, they overpower Andrew and Eric and tie them up, with Eric getting a concussion in the process. After he comes to, the four finally reveal why they have come to this lonely spot in the forest. They claim to have shared visions of this place, this family, and a dire mission that needs to be completed. In short, they must choose for one of the three to die in order to prevent the apocalypse. Unsurprisingly, Andrew and Eric are incredulous. This is when the caveats come. If the hostage family refuses to act, a couple of things happen. First, one of the four will be forced to sacrifice themselves through ritual execution. On the heels of this, there will be a plague released into the world that will take the lives of many people. Of course, Andrew and Eric refuse to cooperate, even after they each give an accounting of their lives. The inaugural person chosen to die is Redmond (Rupert Grint). The other three deliver the blow, and Leonard drags his body outside. When he gets back into the living room, he turns on the television and they watch a news report showing an earthquake, which triggers a tsunami that devastates the west coast of Canada and the United States. This is not enough to convince Andrew and Eric, and they believe that they are being targeted by religious zealots who do not agree with their lifestyle. To that end, Andrew recognizes Redmond as the person who had assaulted him at a bar ostensibly for being a homosexual. With a night’s fitful sleep, and a failed escape attempt by Wen, the following morning it is Mexican restaurant line cook and single mother Adriane’s (Abby Quinn) turn to die upon both Andrew and Eric saying no. This time, the news reports the outbreak of a virus in three countries that is killing children, much to Wen’s horror. Now, it should be noted that Andrew and Eric are not sitting idly by as they are being held responsible for all these deaths. Yes, they are sitting, but they are not idle. At breakfast, Wen is able to slip a knife from her utensils and get it to Andrew, who uses it to cut himself free from the ropes binding him to his chair. In the panic that arises with Adriane’s death, he instructs Wen to make a scene while he slips his bonds. He does so at the same time as Andrew, who makes his way to the car and gets the gun he had purchased after being beaten up in the bar. With the tables turned, he eventually uses it on nurse Sabrina (Nikki Amuka-Bird), and we get another plague. This one seems to affect only airplanes, sending them plummeting to the ground for no apparent reason. It also leaves only Leonard, who they lock in the bathroom before trying to make their escape. They are stopped (for some reason) when they hear Leonard break the window to the outside in the bathroom. Hearing the noise brings Andrew with the gun to investigate. Andrew falls for the obvious ruse, but eventually even Leonard is forced to kill himself when still Andrew and Eric do not make the choice. This happens outside, and with Leonard’s corpse on their porch, the sky begins to blacken and lightning catches things on fire. At this point, Eric convinces Andrew that he had a vision of a person before Redmond died, and now he has another: of Andrew and Wen happily together in the future. What this means is that Eric has decided to die. A tearful Andrew shoots Eric, and immediately all the craziness stops. It is confirmed when a dazed Andrew and Wen make their way to a nearby café and see the news report of the miraculous way in which these catastrophic events suddenly stopped. And with that, Andrew and Wen drive away.
There is an aspect of Knock at the Cabin that I did not discuss in the previous paragraph. It pertains to the non-linear nature of the plot, a storytelling device that usually annoys me. This film is no exception. It seems like every time Shyamalan directed himself into a corner, he threw in a flashback to explain aspects that you are missing in certain scenes. The first time this happens does not seem connected in this way, though. Just as things are beginning to get crazy at the cabin, we are given a scene where Andrew and Eric have Andrew’s parents over for dinner, and they do not approve of their son’s lifestyle. There is no preamble to it, it is seemingly dropped into the sequence at random. Indeed, I thought it was a mistake at first. Most of these come as a vehicle to show how close are Andrew, Eric, and Wen. I do not like these, particular here, because they interrupt the narrative flow. Here we are trying to build up tension as to whether the world will actually end, and the next moment it all dissolves away as we see Andrew and Eric meet their adopted daughter for the first time. I prefer keeping the intensity slowly growing rather than a roller coaster of emotions. Finally, it is never clear to me what would happen if one of the four chose not to carry out their mission. We are told that the images that haunt them are too much to bear, thus forcing their hands. Yet, we never see what they see outside of sketches that comes with the opening credits, and instead have to be told about it. That seems a missed opportunity.
Those visions seen by Leonard and his companions who Knock at the Cabin would have also answered a major, frustrating question for this Catholic reviewer: is Shyamalan trying to intentionally include a critique of Christianity? With such themes as the apocalypse and the end of the world, the logical place many Western viewers would turn their thoughts is to what the Bible says about these events. If you are interested, go ahead and read the Book of Revelation. It looks as if Shyamalan read the Cliff’s Notes version and filled in the gaps with whatever popular culture stereotypes say about the end times. Yes, the Bible does allude to spirits that will be harbingers of the end of the world, but they are not “malice, nurturing, healing, and guidance” as the four home invaders supposedly represent. Instead, they are conquest, war, famine, and death. None of this sounds cheery, but the worst aspect is the way that Shyamalan twists all this around into some nonsense about these four individuals not having a choice in what they are doing. One thing that Christianity has been almost universally agreed upon, no matter how or what you practice, is that we have free will. To be sure, the events of the Book of Revelation will happen one day. There is nothing anyone, anywhere can do about it. We also do not when, where, or how. It is not the work of a sadistic or uncaring God. This is something that has been destined since before time. A loving God does not force people to essentially commit suicide. When the time comes, it will also happen because God loves us and wants to gather His people to him.
You will note that the one thing this Catholic reviewer avoided making a big deal out of is the relationship between Andrew and Eric in Knock at the Cabin. Please refer to the Catechism of the Catholic Church as to the Church’s views on such relationships, and know I agree with what it says. The language is clear that such relationships act against God’s will, but neither does is it iconoclastic. Such relationships work against God’s plan, and I pray that such people choose differently. I will pray for them, and that few people see this film and its utter lack of caring for what Scripture truly says.