Sunshine causes lingering pain and brief moments of delight in M. Night Shyamalan’s Knock at the Cabin, a dark and grim adaptation of Paul G. Tremblay’s 2018 novel. The filmmaker’s weakest tendencies are present but don’t arise as often in the mostly one space setting. Clunky dialogue and bizarre character choices associated with Shyamalan are kept to a minimum. There’s no rapper bafflingly named Mid-Sized Sedan like in his predecessor Old. The apocalyptic theme is hardly new though it generates a respectable amount of tension.
It also gets to the point in scene one. Leonard (Dave Bautista) may look like a bouncer, but he teaches second grade. We learn this as he introduces himself to seven-year-old Wen (Kristen Cui) while she’s catching grasshoppers outside a vacation property in remote Pennsylvania. Wen is the adopted daughter of her two Dads Eric (Jonathan Groff) and Andrew (Ben Aldridge). Leonard insists on forcefully entering the cabin with three associates all sporting old school weapons. They’re not your typical home invaders: nurse Sabrina (Nikki Amuka-Bird) and cook Adriane (Abby Quinn) have kind demeanors like Leonard. Only ill-tempered Redmond (Rupert Grint, all grown up from Harry Potter Weasley fame) seems comfortable breaking and entering.
Dad and Dad don’t welcome their presence and they’re tied up. Eric becomes concussed in the process (hence the sunlight hurting him). The quartet explains that the trio face a gut wrenching choice. They must sacrifice a family member in a short period of time. If they don’t, the world’s population will end in a series of catastrophes. Eric, Andrew, and Wen will survive and everyone else will perish. The hostages are understandably skeptical. Their detainers (who claim they’ve all experienced similar visions of devastation) aren’t afraid to display how serious they are. This includes news footage that shows they might be onto something.
The bulk of Cabin is reserved for us deciding whether Leonard and company are telling the truth. We do get flashbacks of Eric and Andrew’s relationship before and after they bring Wen into their lives. They feel somewhat superfluous yet they are fleeting interludes in the appreciatively brisk 100 minutes. Bautista is playing against type. You would think of him as a teacher in a silly comedy where he displays his bulk. This is far from that and his work is restrained in a positive way. All the performance are adequate. Shyamalan’s track record is spotty with child performances. He is responsible for guiding some great ones (think Haley Joel Osment in The Sixth Sense or Spencer Treat Clark in Unbreakable). Cui’s is on the plus side.
I was a captive audience member for much of the stay. As it continued, I found this surprisingly anticlimactic (especially for something about the Earth maybe ending). Shyamalan has resurrected his career by self-financing his pictures and turning a tidy profit. While that’s admirable, he seems limited by the budget considering all that’s occurring outside the cabin. Like a mid-sized sedan, it’s dependable for awhile until it isn’t.
**1/2 (out of four)