|Synopsis||While vacationing, a girl and her parents are taken hostage by armed strangers who demand that the family make a choice to avert the apocalypse.|
|Length||1 hour, 40 minutes|
|Release Date||February 3, 2023|
|Directing||M. Night Shyamalan|
|Writing||M. Night Shyamalan, Steve Desmond, Michael Sherman|
|Starring||Dave Bautista, Jonathan Groff, Ben Aldridge, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Rupert Grint, Abby Quinn, Kristen Cui|
For an original horror film, Knock at the Cabin was advertised heavily. It seems things have come a long way for director M. Night Shyamalan, whose name used to be left off promotional material due making a series of bad films earlier in his career. Although there’s been a recent turnaround, audiences still have that lingering doubt in their minds as to whether his latest movie will be another stinker. It’s a thought that may weigh heavier on the minds of Christians, given this film wishes to explore Biblical apocalyptic themes amongst a group of religious fanatics that wish to seek harm on a homosexual couple. With a plot that might be too heavy handed with its characterization and messaging, and from a director with a questionable career in terms of quality, should Christians be worried?
Violence/Scary Images: This is a horror film, so there are elements present that intend to scare audiences. Multiple characters commit suicide and place pressure on others to commit the act as well—this is done through the use of sharp objects although the camera cuts away and little gore is shown. Natural disasters take place, such as a tsunami sweeping up people running along a beach. Aviation disasters occur although the impact is only seen from a distance. Apocalyptic themes. Multiple injuries from blunt force trauma. Gun violence. A homophobic hate crime is shown.
Language/Crude Humor: The f-bomb is dropped multiple times although not consistently. Variations of the s-word and other common swears are also said. God and Jesus’ names are used in vain.
Drug/Alcohol References: One scene is set in a bar where characters consume alcohol. Some drink to excess and alcohol-fuelled violence occurs.
Sexual Content: A married homosexual relationship and the hardships experienced is portrayed. No sex or nudity.
Spiritual Content: Half the cast believe they are on a mission from God, detailing what they believe are signs and messages from above. Characters talk about their relationship with God. The film is set within an apocalyptic timeframe or mindset, but while statues of Jesus and other references are present, the theology surrounding this differs from Scripture.
Other Negative Content: Breaking and entering. Assault. Discrimination shown towards a homosexual couple. A homosexual couple lie during the adoption process to skirt around enforced regulations. A child is repeatedly threatened and exposed to violent acts.
Positive Content: The cost of sacrifice is discussed, and if the needs of the few outweigh the needs of many, which brings about an exploration of the goodness that’s inherent within the world, and whether that’s worth saving despite the pain.
Knock at the Cabin features an interesting premise. Four strangers carrying even stranger weaponry descend upon a family that are holidaying in a remote cabin (which doesn’t have cell phone coverage, of course) to try and force them to make a horrifying choice in order to save the world. It’s all laid out in the trailer. Essentially this decision is the entire film. While Knock at the Cabin may come across as a horror, in many ways it’s a tight-knit thriller with an intriguing ethical dilemma at its core—could you make the sacrifice to save the world? What evidence would you need? Is the world even worth saving?
At least, those are the sorts of questions the film invites the audience to ask. Those from a Christian background may ask a different set of questions, and will no doubt view the story through an alternate lens. The central family pictured features a homosexual couple, and the four intruders, while they openly admit to not being fundamental Christians, are wholly convinced they are on a mission from God (with God heavily hinted to be the one associated with Christianity given the film’s cutaways to Christ imagery, as opposed to Jewish or Islamic interpretations, or other major religions).
Horror films (or movies with scary vibes in this case) go through trends. A decade ago zombies were all the rage, then it was demons, and now it seems there’s a fascination with cults. It’s a little concerning. Art is a reflection of culture, and in turn it can also influence society’s ideas as well, in a seemingly never-ending circle. There was a time in horror films where Christians were utilized in the narrative as a mentor figure in times of spiritual crisis or warfare. Now Christians, or rather religion and religious followers, are seen as the monster, which can be indicative of society’s increasing lack of understanding towards the notion of faith itself and the consequences generated from the damage of sinful actions within the Church and its history.
For people who have limited or no contact with religion and have lived a life so far without it, from a distance the collective belief of organized religion seems intimidating, scary, or even crazy, and we’re seeing that now reflected in art. Eventually the trend will move on and focus on something else (personally I believe the next wave will involve body horror from medical malpractice or take the cult themes to a new level where the entire society is crazy except for the gaslit protagonist), but for the meantime it’s important to take note of the fears being presented and understand that despite a narrative’s themes and central subject matter, it may be interpreted very differently amongst audience members depending on their spiritual background.
This is the case with Knock at the Cabin. There will be some overlap in the questions it generates, i.e., are these people crazy, and are they right? Yet a non-believer will more likely explore a path that involves questioning whether God exists, whereas a Christian viewer may already take on board that assumption while watching and will begin to question deeper theological issues. Why would God end the world like this? Have these people interpreted God correctly? Why is this needed when we have Christ? What comment is this movie making about God’s character and is there still room for forgiveness? Disappointingly, although it is somewhat to be expected, the film isn’t equipped to answer these types of queries.
It is a fairly shallow, almost fanfiction approach to Biblical themes, which is normally fine for mainstream cinema, however since this story relies so heavily on the internal, ponderous journey of the audience, it does make for a rather bland experience for Christian viewers. I’ve seen many others enjoy this movie and rate it well, yet I cannot say I had as much fun with it; the biggest reveal or Easter egg-like twist can be predicted even from the trailer if you know your Biblical lore, and the outcome of the narrative feels inevitable instead of challenging. This might be in part due to director M. Night Shyamalan’s penchant for typically opting for twist endings—if you know he leans towards that story format, then you spend much of the runtime trying to mentally jump ahead, ironically defeating the unexpectedness of the surprise in the first place. Knock at the Cabin is actually the most confusing in this department in that I honestly cannot say whether Shyamalan was aiming for a twist this time around, as it’s difficult to determine whether it was simply easy to guess, or if he was intending a more straight-forward narrative.
One aspect of the narrative that will naturally leave a number of Christian viewers on guard is the inclusion of a homosexual couple. Speaking once again about art following culture, films are a little bit behind in LGBT representation, or rather, its perception is lagging as opposed to action within the industry. As someone who works within the industry in both cast and crew roles, it’s common to hear there’s a lack of LGBT content and representation, although those words feel incongruent when scanning through job listings and reading the plot synopsis of upcoming movies in pre-production given that it seems over fifty percent specifically target LGBT inclusion or themes. Most film festivals will feature a blurb encouraging LGBT content, whilst festivals specializing in that demographic are now a dime a dozen. Suffice to say, despite people still saying things to the contrary, there is now a lot of LGBT content out there and it’s not difficult to find.
Yet there was a time when that sort of content was lacking, and the demand for it coincided with society’s push for LGBT acceptance, so films tended to be overly positive with their representation to the point of being disingenuous with the art. Most notably, it wasn’t a true representation of that demographic, and instead narratives were packaged in ways that reflected mainstream culture so to be more palatable for heterosexual audiences. There has been a bit of a shift in the genre as of late, and stories are willing to explore deeper, more pointed themes that the LGBT community face, though films are still slow on the uptake whilst society powers on. As horrible and gratingly irritating Bros was as a movie, it was refreshing to see these things called out and parodied within the genre, hopefully signifying more self-awareness with this sort of content.
But getting back on topic, there are a lot of LGBT content creators out there—some professional but mostly grassroots—that have heard the myth of a need for more positive representation and are producing very cookie cutter flawless LGBT characters. Of course, these stories require an antagonist, and since Christians are stereotypically seen as the LGBT’s mortal enemy, there are numerous one-dimensional, evil-for-the-sake-of-evil Christian villains that are too cartoonishly off the mark to be relatable or assist the narrative’s suspension of disbelief. No matter who is in the role, shallow villains are boring to watch. That LGBT vs. Christians story has been told. Multiple times. It’s been done. There’s hardly anything new to say. It’s rarely done well. Boy Erased is the only film that I’ve seen in this subgenre that I would recommend.
So when Knock at the Cabin teases yet another showdown between Christians and LGBT characters, that red flag is raised, and the quality of the film is rightly questioned. Thankfully Knock at the Cabin displays some maturity in this area. Whilst not declaring himself Christian, director M. Night Shyamalan has repeatedly displayed throughout his career an interest in spirituality and religious themes; there’s a genuine desire to explore and grapple with spiritual issues through his art, so he is fair and never quick to throw Christianity and its followers under the bus. The tension between the LGBT community and religion is present throughout the film, but it holds a nice nuance. However, while it gently toys with the topic, it is also very quick to disregard and sidestep it as well, as though the film never really knew what to say about the issue anyway.
In terms of LGBT representation, Knock at the Cabin features some old school problems though there’s a bit of a modern approach as well, effectively having a foot in both camps. The film plays the “happy gay family package” trope. Their character arc is merely reactionary, so in the opening act all we really learn about these characters is that they were happy until chaos erupted. To be fair, in order for this plot to work, the audience needs to understand the relationship that’s at stake, however this has the unfortunate side effect of there being little to no character development outside of their sexuality. Them being gay is their defining personality trait, which is a common narrative pitfall seen in older LGBT films. Most of the movie’s flashbacks deal with some of the pushback and homophobia the couple endured, which in this day and age in cinema isn’t treading new ground. One particular scene which doesn’t sit well on the stomach is when the couple lies about the nature of their relationship in order to secure their overseas adoption of a child. The film presents this throwaway moment as yet another hurdle the couple must overcome, pushing to elicit more sympathy from the audience, but in reality those rules and regulations they so casually sidestepped are put in place to prevent the very real exploitation of impoverished mothers and the potential abuse of children.
However, some of the film’s more interesting themes are raised in these portions of the story. The central couple aren’t homosexual merely to tick a diversity box—they do actually service the narrative to the point where the story’s messaging would be radically different if they were swapped for another relationship dynamic. Their past confrontations with homophobia directly impact their decisions in the present, as they struggle to discern whether their current situation is yet another example of a hate crime, or whether there’s a persecution complex at play, shielding their views from a much larger picture. One of the film’s greatest questions revolves around the impossibility of making a choice when one can’t even agree on an objective reality. Knock at the Cabin in this way provides a nuanced portrayal of how past social traumas play a role that’s unique to homosexual couples, particularly those of older generations that have lived through a shifting landscape of acceptance. These types of issues have been explored more thoroughly in other horror films such as 2019’s Spiral, but Knock at the Cabin’s bite-sized contribution to the maturation of the LGBT genre is welcome.
This isn’t the only relationship that exists within the film. There’s also a father-daughter bond with their adoptive child that’s also explored, with Kristen Cui nicely playing the role despite her young age. Yet when the ground rules are laid, this relationship quickly becomes the elephant in the room for the audience. It becomes all too clear the film lacks the real teeth and claws to really rip into darker territory despite its R rating. Knock at the Cabin is the rare horror film which may have benefitted with a heavier use of gore in order to hit the serious weight required of certain story beats.
Its justification to not head into juicier, darker territory is rather weak. To satisfy certain questions, viewers are left with the phrase “pure love”. However, the central love story, while reasonably fleshed out in regards to the challenges shown, isn’t anything particularly epic or unique. Controversial opinion, but sexual or romantic relationships arguably contain the highest amount of selfishness. There is a conditional element to them and boundaries must be laid in order for it to work. In the dating phase in particular, when one person feels the love is no longer reciprocal or they’re not getting what they desire from that type of relationship, then it’s practically expected for them to cut ties and move along. This is different from other forms of human relations, such as familial bonds and platonic forms of love. There’s even a certain purity in the bond shared between a human and their pet. With LGBT representation now at an all-time high, it oddly seems some diversity has been lost in cinema, as stories make way for the different varieties of romance and sexual attraction at the cost of the many other forms of love seen throughout humanity. However, while some of the film’s answers feel dissatisfactory, the story did require a romantic relationship in this instance; the stakes always seem higher when it involves lovers as opposed to merely friends, despite the fact that “pure love” can take place in many ways.
Speaking of stakes, Knock at the Cabin is weird. The apocalypse is nigh and the world is potentially ending, so logically it feels like the stakes can’t get much higher. Yet those types of stakes are always so grand that it can be hard to conceptualize, particularly in this movie’s case where it’s questionable whether it’s even a possibility in the first place. So the stakes naturally start to develop closer to home. Yet when the narrative begins to unveil the rules of this horror film, things quickly become inverted—the immediate predicament for the protagonists gets easier as time ticks along. It’s a little underwhelming for a story that really should be all about the stakes involved.
From a technical standpoint, Knock at the Cabin is hard to fault. The camera work is gorgeous at times. Director M. Night Shyamalan has a penchant for inserting creative shots where sometimes it’s too distracting, though for the most part everything seems to work. The cast all put in great performances. Once again Dave Bautista proves he has the ability to take on serious roles, stating recently that while he enjoyed his time within the MCU, he is willing to expand his acting muscles. His career is certainly on an upward trajectory. However, it’s Rupert Grint who really shines when it comes to expanding their acting skillset. Out of the main trio of protagonists in the Harry Potter series, Rupert Grint’s career has been the most inactive since the franchise’s conclusion. He certainly stretches himself in this role, barely recognizable as his character is wildly different from Ron.
As much as things have been discussed here, Knock at the Cabin isn’t a bad film. However, I would struggle on where to place it in a ranking of M. Night Shyamalan films. It’s possibly in the middle. As goofy as the concepts in some of his films are, such as his other recent movie, Old, they are a lot more fun to watch. Knock at the Cabin feels like it should be delivering an important message though it ultimately seems rather bland, told in a way that’s not always optimal for the narrative to achieve its lofty goals.
+ Not just ticking the diversity box
+ Some more nuanced LGBT themes
- Shallow theology
- Not treading new ground
- Inverted stakes
- Not gory
- Pulls punches
- Only mildly engaging
The Bottom Line
Knock at the Cabin tries hard to be relevant and interesting, though Christians may find this think piece too predictable and dissatisfying.