The Pitch: Happy-go-lucky dads (and, since this is an M. Night Shyamalan film, proud Pennsylvanians) Eric (Jonathan Groff) and Andrew (Ben Aldridge) take their adopted daughter Wen (Kristen Cui) up to a remote cabin in the New Jersey Pine Barrens for some quality daddies-daughter time. For a while, it’s all catching grasshoppers and impromptu dives into the crystal-clear lake nearby… until a mysterious man named Leonard (Dave Bautista) shows up, gentle as a butterfly but honed by a terrifying purpose.
You see, he and his three compatriots — Adriane (Abby Quinn), Sabrina (Nikki Amuka-Bird), and Redmond (Rupert Grint) — have never met in person before today, but they’re driven by a shared vision of the apocalypse. And they’re convinced that, unless a member of Eric and Andrew’s family willingly sacrifices themselves, humanity will be beset by plague, pestilence, and annihilation.
Are they crazy people driven by a shared delusion? Or are their visions truly prophetic? And if so, do their targets have the ability to do what they feel needs to be done?
Signs and Portents: It’s a wild time to be an M. Night Shyamalan fan; after a string of successes in the late ’90s with films like The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, public sentiment turned on his works with a string of flops ranging from absurd overextensions of his high-concept thriller predilections (The Happening) to downright baffling adaptations of material he had no business touching (The Last Airbender).
But in recent years, it seems that both Shyamalan and his audience have found a way to meet each other halfway: his works are smaller, more high-concept, and play to his strengths — Split was a wonderful return to form, and a dedicated cabal of film fans had a wild ride with Old. Knock at the Cabin feels very much in his wheelhouse, a lo-fi thriller restricted largely to a single location, extending the personal stakes of a family dynamic out to the end of the world (see his excellent Apple TV+ series Servant for more of the same — and more Grint!).
Based on the novel by Paul Tremblay, Knock at the Cabin commits to its thought experiment of a premise, a deadly dilemma that no one involved wants to participate in, but seemingly must. Leonard and his group of zealots carry themselves with the conviction of the righteous, but what stirs in their performances is that ongoing tinge of resignation. They’re hardly the most terrifying home invaders, Bautista’s imposing size aside: they’re grade-school teachers, line cooks, nurses — everyday folks nonetheless burdened with visions of the end of the world they feel only they can stop. If they didn’t think the literal world was about to end, they’d be anywhere else.