Knock at the Cabin doesn’t waste time getting to the punchline. Its home invasion plot immediately kicks into gear, and from there, we experience 90 minutes that are as tense as they are bleak. It’s a thriller that’s all killer and no filler; I truly appreciate how taut and simple it is. Revolving around an impossible moral choice, the film’s premise drives every minute forward, forcing us to negotiate our beliefs and ethics in disturbing ways. Knock at the Cabin commits to this premise in ways I never thought it would: for a story about apocalyptic visions, it has the guts to be unflinchingly dire, and I applaud it for that.
Elevating the film’s moral tensions is its close-quarters setting. It provides a whole new meaning to cabin fever, as we remain confined to a suffocating cabin that feels removed from humanity entirely — both in its remote setting and in the wicked bloodshed it harbors. What is perhaps most impressive is how this environment remains fresh throughout the movie. Instead of a one-room play disguised as a movie, this is a wholly cinematic experience, with M. Night Shyamalan always finding the most creative way to stage or film a moment. Few horror directors are working on this level of craft, weaponizing close-ups that wring empathy in unexpected places, while also conveying distance between characters with off-center framing. It’s almost as if M. Night’s main inspiration for the film was to test whether he could get high mileage out of one location; if so, he succeeded in spades.
Although Knock at the Cabin‘s simplicity is its greatest strength, part of me wonders if it becomes straightforward to a fault. This is particularly relevant to the film’s ending. Not every M. Night movie needs a crazy twist, but something about this ending feels too cleanly resolved for my taste. If it opted for something more ambiguous, I think it would make the film’s moral dilemmas more uncomfortable, giving the film an unexpected staying power. As it is, though, Knock at the Cabin is an effective exercise in tension that fulfills its premise — even if it lacks the depth or heart that defined some of M. Night’s great movies.
I would be remiss if I didn’t conclude by offering an apology of sorts to M. Night. The first review I ever wrote on this website was a review of Glass, in which I proudly declared in my opening line that I’m not an M. Night apologist. The irony, of course, is that I spent most of the review being an M. Night apologist, and I have spent the years since being one as well. Although I wish Knock at the Cabin was as ballsy as Glass or as silly as Old, there’s no denying that M. Night is one of the most uncompromising voices working in horror today. I’ll happily line up for his next movie on opening weekend, and I recommend that you line up for this one as well.