A young couple and their adopted daughter (Jonathan Groff, Ben Aldridge, Kristen Cui) arrive at a secluded cabin for a family getaway. However, they are soon visited by four individuals (Dave Bautista, Rupert Grint, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Abby Quinn) who quickly subdue them and force them to make an impossible choice for an equally improbable reason - one of the three family members must willingly kill one of their own, and if they do not, the world will end...
M. Night Shyamalan's recent work, pretty much since 'Split', has tended towards relatively simple concepts with complex emotional and psychological repercussions. Sure, you can explain the plot in a couple of sentences, but the richness comes from how well they're played by successively game casts and by playing with expectations. In the case of 'Old', it was a fascinating examination of parenthood and childhood, how the few real moments are only ever preserved in memory through trauma, and how we deal with aging generally. Yes, there was a certain goofiness to it, but it was deeply earnest.
In 'Knock At The Cabin', Shyamalan goes back to themes present in some of his earlier work. The idea of faith and family, how our world is so often a place of terror for others and how the rest can sometimes be oblivious, and how our perceptions and judgments can deceive us. Adapted from Paul Tremblay's excellent novel, 'The Cabin At The End Of The World', the core concept is the same - namely, a same-sex couple with an adopted daughter are set upon by a group of people who claim to be cursed with visions of the end of the world, but the differences here are in orders of magnitude. In Shyamalan's own words, where one story goes left, his goes right.
Up to that point, 'Knock at the Cabin' is a startlingly well-made thing. Dave Bautista gives his best on-screen performance to date as Leonard, the soft-spoken leader of the home invaders. One of his greatest talents is his ability to command his physical presence in such a way that it plays perfectly in tune with his character. In this case, Bautista's character is almost a fairytale creature; a kindly, wayward giant. The subtleties he's able to put on show demonstrate how far he's come as a performer, particularly in the opening stages here. Jonathan Groff and Ben Aldridge both play off nicely each other with Kristen Cui. Aldridge, in particular, stands out of the three in how he's able to show how trauma and injustice inures a person. The other home invaders are both clear representations, Nikki Amuka-Bird in particular portrays the horror of their own actions in such an interesting way.
Shyamalan is able to play with the stagey setup, taking in neat overhead shots of the interior, playing with the broad daylight and the natural darkness in the cabin. Yet, where 'Knock At The Cabin' collapses is in its final act, as whatever subtlety in the story is stripped away and reveals very little. Obviously, Shyamalan's previous work tells you that there's going to be an ending without any kind of ambiguity, but it's such a shame for this because it's a story that rests on uncertainty and faith. Up until this, it's up there as one of Shyamalan's best works, yet when it takes the turn and winds up exactly where you expect it to be, it just proves to be good rather than great.