By Kai Curry
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
It’s hard for me to believe that people just make movies for no reason. That there isn’t some greater objective to the tale they want to tell, especially when it comes to someone like M. Night Shyamalan, the thinking person’s horror movie writer. So this is what I came up with for “Knock at the Cabin.” Yeah, you can watch it in a vacuum, and decide there’s not much more to it than what’s on the surface: it’s the apocalypse or it isn’t and a random family has to choose one of their members to die—or else everyone else does. OR it’s a lesson about sacrifice for others. For the world even.
First, I was thinking to myself, what do I actually know about Shyamalan and when was the last time we heard from him? Turns out he’s been producing a lot, but I didn’t know it, such as the TV series, “Servant.” The most recent movie he was involved in was “Old” from 2021. He’s been around, never left, yet not sure he’s had a hit at the level of “The Sixth Sense” and what I would call his “golden era” that lasted until about 2002 and “Signs.” This might be. A hit, I mean. It’s got star power with Dave Bautista as “Leonard”—he’s everywhere these days, eh? And it’s intriguing enough to grab you and hold you through to the end.
Maybe it’s “just” the apocalypse and you’re wondering if it could really happen that way—a group of modern-day four horsemen show up at your door and ask you to choose who gets to die. Maybe you like the Biblical stuff, which the movie is light on—except the entire concept of the apocalypse and a scene of quoting based on Revelations, but updated to take things like airplanes into account—“The skies will fall and crash to the earth like pieces of glass.”
Or maybe you choose to see a deeper moral lesson about self-sacrifice and I don’t know—maybe you should use paper straws or else you could help kill the entire planet—any of these POVs, it’s intense.
This is kind of how I saw it. Especially now, after COVID-19, we all do live in this vacuum where everything comes to us, the delivery guy, and the news. We watch the TV—as they do in the movie—and even when we see something awful (as the family procrastinates making a decision, it causes more and more “plagues” to happen), we sort of half don’t believe it. It feels so far away. It feels like it’s on TV. And we don’t think we, as individuals, can really do anything about it. In fact, like Ben Aldridge, who plays “Andrew,” does throughout, we fight like heck to rationalize the bad stuff away and figure out how it’s not our fault. These people are crazy. It’s not us. And also, sub-LGBTQ-theme, why help when people have been so horrible to us?
Not these people, exactly, not the four who show up at the house, except, surprise! Rupert Grint’s character, “Redmond,” is a “redneck” who maybe Andrew and partner “Eric” (Jonathon Groff) ran into at a bar once and who caused Andrew permanent PTSD, with a heightened desire to be as fit and ready as possible for the next anti-gay incident. What I’m getting to here is 1) it really IS puzzling how we’re supposed to keep our guns locked up and separate from the bullets—boy, does it take a long time to get locked and loaded and shoot the person chasing you with a mallet (I am so anti-gun, yet I have never been able to resolve this which is just one reason I don’t have one); and 2) people were super excited about Grint being in the movie and all I can say is, meh, if you want the thrill of seeing him all grown up and pissed off, then here you go.
So, Andrew has a hard time getting around a justified feeling of persecution—sure, we’re a random family. Sure, you didn’t show up to torment us because we’re a gay couple. Meanwhile, Eric is starting to see the light, so to speak. In the midst of this is their darling daughter, “Wen” (Kristin Cui), who is just, I don’t know, a darling, and a kind of straight-faced foil to her dads, one of which is screaming angrily, and one of which is not, mainly cuz he got hit in the head.
It’s a horror movie, there are not a lot of gems to quote, per se, but Bautista is great as the giant, tatted, so bald you can see the folds of his brain, leader of the home invaders who is, confusingly, a second grade teacher that Eric dubs “the guide”—and I do not recall that being one of the horsemen, but whatevs. Leonard is the calmest of the bunch and really wishes everyone would just do the right thing. He cleans up all of their messes, so that no one has to be in the same room with them (how we do with the corpses of those polar bears dying from global warming, just saying). He’s really polite and it’s never easy to reconcile that with his mountainous bald-headed body covered in ink. Stereotypes, right? Look where they get you.
Conclusion, it’s nice to see Indian American Shyamalan back with a solid film. PS he has a cameo. It’s never not fun to watch part-Filipino former WWE wrestler Bautista throw his weight around. He’s a fascinating actor who manages to leverage his physical presence along with an intriguing personality in whatever he plays. It’s nice to see him skyrocketing to more and more roles much faster than some of his colleagues with similar traits (I’m thinking of Danny Trejo). Shyamalan’s films are their own genre, on a tightrope between pure horror and pure drama, making you think just a little but not so much that it ruins the thrills, often asking you to question your own beliefs about something, be it aliens, God, or if one family really can save the world.
Kai can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.