Knock at the Cabin: A Spiritual Home Invasion


Wen in Knock at the Cabin. Screengrab from official trailer.

No one shoots a movie like M. Night Shyamalan. The man has an undeniable gift for brilliant composition, possessing a distinct cinematic eye that’s entirely his own. You cannot look at any of his films without taking notice of their auteurist sensibilities. Unique framing, somber performances, and atmospheric pacing are all unmistakable hallmarks of the director’s mise en scene. When he’s on his A-game, Shyamalan can direct chilling, slow-burn suspense worthy of Hitchcock at his best. And yet, his uncompromising style can just as frequently result in a perplexing cinematic misfire. For every Unbreakable, there’s a Last Airbender. Where will Shyamalan’s newest feature, Knock at The Cabin, fall on the pendulum? 

Jonathan Groff and Ben Aldridge star as Eric and Andrew, a happily married couple on vacation with their precocious daughter, Wen (Kristen Cui). They’re a model family, a household built upon unconditional love and compassion. Unfortunately, four strangers crash their vacation and throw their lives into a terrifying disarray. Led by their soft-spoken, hulkish headman Leonard (Dave Bautista), these mysterious home invaders take the trio hostage and deliver a somber prophecy. One of them must die, or the world will end. 

Right from the get go, Knock At The Cabin has an ingenious premise, one rife with potential for pulse-pounding suspense. And while Shyamalan wastes no time setting up that tension, he still finds to psychoanalyze the weighty themes attached to Leonard’s impossible proposition. Does the world deserve to be saved? 

Life is not kind to many within the LGBTQ+ community. The ACLED (Armed Conflict Location and Event Data project) reports that nearly 200 anti-LGBTQ+ incidents had been reported in 2022 alone, marking a 300 percent increase from the previous year. Knock at the Cabin is built upon that sociological subtext, for the filmmakers refuse to sugarcoat how these hardships plague today’s queer community.

Both Eric and Andrew experience different forms of homophobia throughout their lives, ranging from innocent microaggressions to horrific hate crimes. Andrew in particular feels ostracized by society, having endured a lifetime of discrimination before finding someone who loves him. This, of course, makes Leonard’s request even more difficult. How can they sacrifice the people they love most for a world that doesn’t love them back? Even the antagonists are aware of how cruel their request truly is, adding another layer of nuance to an already tense thriller. 

Admittedly, I am only truly qualified to speak on the film as a technical achievement, and when judged on those merits it’s a rousing success. The filmmaking and performances are top of the line, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t gripping my seat the entire runtime. Jarin Blaschke and Lowell A. Meyer’s cinematography is crisp and visually inspired, building tension with some of the most inventive framing you’ll see in a motion picture this year. And while the script has some of Shyamalan’s trademark writing foibles, his cast more than makes up for the occasional awkward line.  

From a narrative perspective, Leonard and his cohorts are Knock at The Cabin’s greatest source of intrigue. Their motivations (and sanity) are unclear throughout the film, but it’s clear from the beginning that they are not your protypical torture-porn slashers. None of them take any pleasure in hurting people, visibly sickened by their own acts of brutality. The violence is never glorified, with Shyamalan favoring guilt-ridden reaction shots over gruesome barbarity. Every drop of blood they spill takes a clear psychological toll on these home invaders. And yet, they never waver in their dedication to the cause.  

Leonard and two members of his crew. Screengrab from Knock at the Cabin official trailer.

Knock at The Cabin’s dedicated cast is part of what makes these characters so fascinatingly complex. While Shyamalan has always been a hit-or-miss in terms of how he works with actors, he struck gold here. The performances carry this film, providing the premise with pathos and a grounded sense of realism. Bautista is a standout, delivering quite possibly the best work of his career. His towering figure and weighty physique make Leonard a naturally intimidating presence, yet Bautisa’s sensitive work in the role makes the character feel achingly human.

Leonard is on the verge of tears throughout this film, whispering his lines with unmistakable sadness. There’s genuine pain in his eyes, making the man as pitiful as he is frightening. It’s a mesmerizing performance, one that feels both emotionally raw and deeply unsettling given the nature of his actions. We can never be sure if Leonard is a prophet or a deranged religious fanatic. But while Leonard’s psychological stability is up for debate, Bautista ensures that his character’s faith is never in doubt. 

As a wannabe-filmmaker from Philly, I will always respect Shyamalan and his creative vision. He’s what all artists should aspire to be, a one-of-a-kind visual stylist 100 percent committed to his own brand of filmmaking. So perhaps I am being charitable to this film and will openly admit it’s not for everyone. Knock at The Cabin is slow, idiosyncratic, and even clumsy in parts. But it’s thrilling all the same. No one is making movies like this, and the effort alone is worthy of applause.

 I admire Shyamalan for daring to make such a visually distinct thriller with unapologetic sociological commentary. And while I can’t confirm that said commentary is handled with the utmost nuance and grace, his heart is certainly in the right place. So I recommend checking out Knock at The Cabin, there’s nothing out now quite like it.