Any good apocalypse story tries to tap into some deep-seated existential fear inside of us, and Knock at the Cabin is no exception. Based on a novel by Paul Tremblay, Knock at the Cabin follows a family who are trapped by four mysterious strangers and told that only they can prevent the end of the world. The catch? They’ll have to sacrifice a family member to save everyone else.

The film starts with Eric (Jonathan Groff), Andrew (Ben Aldridge), and Wen (Kristen Cui) enjoying a remote getaway. Strangers appears from the woods and quickly set upon the family, and that’s as much warning as Knock at the Cabin gives. There’s no slow build: it’s as abrupt a start for the audience as it is for Eric, Andrew, and Wen. Thematically, this works, because it implies that such a burden can be put upon anyone at any time. Getting your audience to pay attention to the stakes is crucial, and Knock at the Cabin does so early on.

The four strangers (Dave Bautista, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Abby Quinn, and Rupert Grint) each offer a unique perspective on their unpleasant task. They make for interesting captors: it’s clear that they believe in what they’re doing, even if they resent it somewhat. It’s creates an odd atmosphere for the film, because it’s much calmer than a traditional horror or thriller movie.

As the film goes on, the tension slowly builds. As the family come to the slow realization of how dire their situation is, things begin to grow clearer. Even then, there’s a lot of ambiguity, and, though things are eventually wrapped up neatly, there are plenty of issues with Knock at the Cabin‘s story and its subtext.

Knock At The Cabin Simply Isn’t As Devastating As It Tries To Be

Knock at the Cabin is a film that really tries to hit its audience hard. Taking a sweet family and putting them in a terrible situation will do that, but certain aspects of the script really weaken its overall punch. While putting a gay couple at the fore might seem like a political statement, it really isn’t. It’s handled sensitively, but really, it’s simple representation. There’s no real narrative need for the characters to be gay, they just are. That’s very good.

The problems with this come in the film’s final act. Andrew is shown to be angry, and his anger is mostly directed outward. According to Andrew, everyone is bigoted, and the world hates gays. Except, this really isn’t what Knock at the Cabin is about, and that jumbles its message. It begs the question: what exactly is this story about?

Knock At The Cabin Seems To Suffer From A Tedious Identity Crisis

Ben Alridge as Andrew, Kristen Cui as Wen, and Jonathan Groff as Eric in Knock at the Cabin (2023)

The sensitivity of Dave Bautista’s Leonard proves that it’s not about prejudice. It’s about destiny, and it’s about the horrific odds that humanity faces just ensure our continued existence. It’s about making sacrifices for the planet and for the people we love. All of its other characters seem to understand this, but for some reason, Andrew doesn’t. This lends Knock at the Cabin an unnecessary subtext about marginalization that ultimately hurts its impact.

It’s a film that follows a set narrative, and it all makes sense. Sadly, with M. Night Shyamalan movies, there’s an expectation for a big horror plot twist, and this just isn’t the case. This deflates Knock at the Cabin‘s final act, because it leaves us waiting for something that just doesn’t happen. Everything that occurs is pretty predictable, and that makes for a by-the-numbers disaster movie told through the lens of a single family’s moral quandary. It doesn’t delve into the psychology of it all, it simply presents its facts, and then moves on.

Despite solid performances from the majority of its cast, Knock at the Cabin just doesn’t really have any effect. It’s hardly thrilling, and though the question at its heart is entertaining, its ending is ultimately predictable. It’s watchable, but it’s not likely to leave much of an impression on its audience.

Rating: 50%

Summary: It’s a serviceable thriller, but little more. There’s a bungling of its deeper themes that really confuses Knock at the Cabin‘s message, but it’s still solidly entertaining.

Highlight: Dave Bautista’s imposing yet sensitive Leonard is quietly unnerving, particularly in the film’s opening scenes.