- Great performances
- Interesting horror premise
- Solid tension throughout
- Great special effects
- Disjointed pace
- Strange placement of flashbacks
- A tad melodramatic
With “Knock,” Shyamalan’s gonna always Shyamalan but a great lead performance from Dave Bautista gives this disjointed horror-thriller some grace in its awkward execution.
While vacationing at a remote cabin in the woods, a young girl and her parents are taken hostage by four armed strangers who demand they make an unthinkable choice to avert the apocalypse. Confused, scared and with limited access to the outside world, the family must decide what they believe before all is lost.
Continuing to build on his comeback phase, director M. Night Shyamalan has a knack for picking good B-Movie plots to showcase on a mainstream budget. People visit an island that turns them older by the minute (Old), teenage girls are taken hostage by a man with 23 different personalities (Split), two kids discover something is very odd and strange with grandma and grandpa (The Visit). Now we come to “Knock at the Cabin” (based on Paul Tremblay’s horror novel “Cabin at the End of the World”), an apocalyptic thriller in which our favorite polarizing filmmaker makes interesting storytelling choices. Tight closeups, pulse-pounding suspense and emotional flashbacks could be the recipe for a great suspenseful watch but in “Knock”, all of these elements lead to a mixed bag.
The film begins with Wen (Kristen Cui, great), a young girl collecting grasshoppers outside the lake cabin rented by her two dads, Eric (Jonathan Groff) and Andrew (Ben Alrdrige). She is met by an intimidatingly huge but sweet man named Leo (Dave Bautista). At first apprehensive, as she has been taught not to speak to strangers, Wen believes Leo to be innocent enough to catch grasshoppers with and learn more about. Before long, the innocent let’s-get-to-know-each-other chat becomes tense and Wen learns that something is off about Leo…and his three friends trailing behind with large, intimidating weapons. As Wen goes in to warn her dads about the encroaching strangers, the group soon barges in. After a lengthy scuffle, the two dads are tied to their chairs, Andrew red with fury, Eric with a slight concussion and Wen periodically holding on to either dad with terror and worry in her eyes. Here, they are met with a simple proposition: they have about 24 hours to sacrifice a member of their family to prevent the apocalypse. If time runs out and no choice is made, water will rise, skies will fall and they will be the only humans left on the face of the destroyed Earth.
If there’s one great thing going for “Knock”, it’s the cast’s chemistry. Dave Bautista does a great job in the lead role of Leo, proving that his competence in “Army of the Dead” wasn’t a one-trick-pony move. He perfectly balances the line between compassionate ally and enigmatic adversary. His intimidating presence is only a bonus to his ability to pose as the sweetest, almost-non threatening guy you never want to be on the wrong side of. Then there’s the chemistry between the family: Groff, Aldridge and Cui bounce off each other well in their cute flashbacks and Groff and Aldridge in particular have strong emotional moments with each other. As two of Leo’s scary weapon-holding friends, Nikki Amuka-Bird gives does good supporting work (including a solid mini-monologue) as faith-weary nurse Sabrina and Abby Quinn has the right look of manic-panic as line cook Adriane. Rupert Grint, however, is sorely miscast as the rude, careless Redmond. He doesn’t give the right kind of “screw you” attitude that his character should have and it makes his dialogue and presence stilted.
“Knock” teeters a good line between faith and skepticism throughout its duration. The plot shrewdly plays with its audience (and its central family) on whether this is all real or if these four strangers are just some nutjobs who met on a message board. There are many suspicions that arise: that Leo, the ringleader, could be making this all up; that this is all a sick hate crime due to Eric and Andrew being a same-sex couple; or that they’re all just very deranged. The longer the family refuses to make a choice, the more news reports show of destruction arising around the earth; the more they stand firm on not sacrificing anyone, the more murderous consequences come close to home. There are some terrific special effects within the horrific moments of the Breaking News reports. Found-footage moments of planes falling from the sky like raindrops create terrific moments of suspense and nail-biting excitement. Cutaways and good sound design during moments of bloody action are a nice touch but awkward placements for flashbacks disrupt the film’s momentum.
In Leo and Wen’s first conversation, Shyamalan uses uncomfortable tight closeups as the characters wax poetic on catching grasshoppers and divulging more information about each other. As the conversation turns dark and Leo tells Wen that he is sad about “what he has to do”, the closeup makes way for great tension. However, as the film moves along, awkwardly placed flashbacks (delving deep into each member of the family) throws all the tension out the window and takes the audience back to square one with lulled momentum. As a character locks a window to keep intruders out, we cut to a flashback; when a character is surprisingly harmed, we jarringly cut to another flashback; as a character remembers a violent memory, we get a flash of it, and even though it’s shown in full-view later to add context, the initial tease is still jarring and only diverts from the main action at hand. The film both works for and against itself creating a polarizing experience that may not leave audiences unsatisfied with its solid suspenseful conclusion but perplexed with their satisfaction of the film as a whole.
As polarizing as his work can be, Shyamalan has always been an admirable filmmaker that likes to push himself, tackling interesting B-movie plots in an unusual way. “Knock” is not a perfect horror/thriller nor is it a horrible one. It’s neither placed in the “good Shyamalan” section (everything pre-Lady in the Water, Old) nor the “bad Shyamalan” section (Last Airbender, Happening, After Earth) of his filmography but more so in the “tolerable Shyamalan” section (joining the ranks of films like “The Visit”). A great lead performance from Bautista makes this film tolerable and slightly makes up for the disjointed tension and pace throughout. While it may be mid on the scale of thrills and chills, “Knock” does build to a tense, suspenseful conclusion that will leave most audiences satisfied and without complaint. Faith is a big theme in “Knock” and after churning out as many interesting blockbusters as he has throughout his career, no one should lose faith any longer that Shyamalan is back and he is back for good and, all polarizing reception aside, Shyamalan is just always gonna Shyamalan (and that might not be a totally bad thing either).
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