Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Mon Feb 06, 2023 9:45 pm 
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A story from Shyamalan that's exhausting, disturbing, horrible, and stupid

In this movie a little family is on summer holiday at a remote woodsy spot when an odd assortment of people force their way in carrying primitive weapons on the pretext that one of their hosts (two men and a small child) must choose to be killed by the others to avert the apocalypse. We are forced to watch this. It does not end well - for them or for us.

He lost me from the title, because how do you "knock at the cabin"? You knock at (or on) the cabin door. And in this he changed the book source (by Paul Tremblay), which was overly grandiose but was English: "The Cabin at the End of the World." I don't know how faithful this is, or if it can even be considered an adaptation; but it appears to follow the outlines. And those conform to the filmmaker's taste for the supernatural, the haunting, and the apocalyptic. But this is a budget apocalypse, consisting of a few people behaving brutally to each other with the excuse that they've had visions, while some dire things are being reported on the TV news. The movie adheres to the old-fashioned notion that when awful events occur, we'll see it on TV. Many of us did see the Twin Towers flame and crumble on TV; but how we get our information has changed in the ensuing two decades so that TV seems now like a many-layered construct.

Wouldn't it be nice if you would do something, and planes would fall from the sky? No, it would not. It would be awful, and it would also mean you were probably crazy. Only here, the complete craziness turns out to be true - except that, surely it's not. No one seems to have any sense in this movie, not even the two gay husbands, Andrew (Ben Aldridge) and Eric (Jonathan Groff), adoptive parents of sweet little Wen (Kristen Cui), whose only desire is to collect grasshoppers and "observe" them. She falls hostage to the dire visitors, and so do we.

Shyamalan relies on a number of brief flashbacks to fill us in on the background of this little family: the happy moment of adoption of baby Wen; a violent incident involving one of the men in a bar. This is the maestro's weakest material, because it's not necessary, well developed, or structurally integral. (Or as The New Yorker's witty Anthony Lane says in his review, "Like we care.") The foreground action, however, is compelling, and Shyamalan has lost notneof his manipulative skill. How can we not be fascinated and appalled by Leonard (Dave Bautista), an unshaven tattooed giant, soft spoken, apologetic, who says he is a second grade teacher? (He looks like a WWE superstar, which turns out to be what the actor was in, as it were, civilian life.) With Leonard are a DC line cook, Adriane (Abby Quinn); a recovery nurse, Sabrina (Nikki Amuka-Bird); and Rupert Grint. They have connected on social media (of course!) because they have had "the same visions." Really? Did those visions direct all four of them to this same cabin in rural Pennsylvania? This isn't worked out and doesn't bear examination. We must rely on visions of our own to make sense of it.

The raw, disturbing physical business, which we mustn't, and frankly would rather not, go into, Shyamalan handles well. But we have to put up with the dialogue, which is repetitious, wearisome, and implausible. Worst of all no one says anything particularly intelligent. Frequently what they say is flat-out stupid. Apocalypse is a grand and gloriously awful prospect. If it is not to be seen in on-screen cataclysms à la Roland Emmerich, it at least deserves to be narrated by someone smart and articulate. But that desire is out of place here. These are innocents in the grip of a delusion. We must pity them.

Nonetheless as with any decent "home invasion" story one watches riveted and appalled and stays hooked till there is some relief: till the invaders depart or the invaded are set free. Snyamalan is at his most adept in this manipulation. In this case he also keeps us wanting to know if the world is going to end or not. To do the crazy Four Horsemen (or Horse-persons) and the filmmakers credit, for a while it seems quite like the world is going to end. Otherwise, what would be the point? But what one wants to end is this movie. This may be one of Shyamalan's best films. He remains a popular entertainer who does some things with mastery, but always falls short somewhere.

Knock at the Cabin, 100 mins., released and releases in multiple countries in late January and early February. It opened in US theaters Feb. 3, 2023. Screened for this review at Rialto Cinemas Cerrito, El Cerrito, California, Feb. 6, 2023. Metacritic rating: 63%.

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