top of page


Looking at the Sky

Knock At The Cabin (M. Night Shyamalan, 2022, USA)

by Marcelo Miranda

          "We are here to prevent the apocalypse": in superficial terms, Leonard's (Dave Bautista) phrase is the culmination of the tension installed from the very first moments of Knock At The Cabin, but it is mainly the central point of the ideas proposed by M. Night Shymalan movie by movie, especially since The Sixth Sense (1999), still his best known work. He is a filmmaker of spirituality and faith. Let this not be understood as something necessarily related to religion. The two aspects are much deeper and more sophisticated than any institutionalized belief system. Because of his Indian roots, Shyamalan brings into Hollywood a series of questioning mechanisms about spirituality and faith that, in the end, serve to reaffirm both as drivers of state of being in the world. If there is something that Shyamalan's cinema is not, and this sometimes surprises those who insist on looking at it with a narrow or prejudiced view, it is to be ambiguous. Even in his most radical project, The Happening (2008), in which the absence of answers is almost an aesthetic definition, nobody doubts that a global phenomenon is underway. There is no ambiguity; the facts given by the movie are concrete.

           When Leonard then reveals himself to be there with his fellow cosmic visionaries to prevent the end of the world, Knock at the Cabin moves away from the "home invasion film" to which he had hitherto been attached, or even from a more traditional thriller as it might seem, to enter a scenario of uncertainty about what is being seen. It is not about a robbery, revenge, escape, fetish, as a whole tradition of "home invasion films" has accustomed the audience interested in these narratives. The motivation of the quartet arises from their condition as supposed oracles who have been given the grace (or misfortune) to see how the planet will become extinct. It is up to the remaining characters - a married couple formed by Andrew (Ben Aldridge) and Eric (Jonathan Groff), along with young daughter Wen (Kristen Cui) - to believe it or not, and if they do, they will need to fulfill the prophecy of killing each other to prevent the greater evil.

           The tragedy in Knock at the Cabin, therefore, is on the order of belief in the realm of the spiritual. If Leonard and the acolytes speak the truth, it will mean the existence of greater forces ruling the earth and over which human beings may have no control as they often believe they do. "Maybe that happens from time to time," says one of the guys in a moment of despair, as if to accept his own sacrificed condition and thus embrace a faith he barely knew he had in himself. The movie deals with these issues in a frontal and direct way, totally connected to the characters and using television (just like radio in Signs, another Shyamalan, released in 2002) as a means of amplifying the amount of information. But TV is a means of mediation, it is not enough to "prove" the concrete existence of things, something treated by the filmmaker in a very sophisticated way in Glass (2019). It takes materiality and especially a worldview that perhaps only makes sense the instant one actually sees what the other, and only himself, had hitherto believed about. In the drama presented by Knock at the Cabin, the couple act as unbelievers, they question the veracity of the group of invaders, they suffer violence for opposing the coordinated action, but at a certain point they begin to feel that something may actually be happening within what is presented to them. Andrew is more skeptical, Eric has some propensity for faith, and it is only when the beliefs of both finally find a point of balance between one and the other that spirituality is reached to finally make the prophecy come true.

           It is all much more thoughtful and impure than what part of the critics pointed out about the movie, by wanting to put in these developments social, sexual and even religious issues that are not, effectively, inserted in Shyamalan's provocations. What is really disturbing about Knock At The Cabin is the confrontation with the collapse of unbelief, it is surprising with the effective materiality of what the antagonists were talking about, it is creating the knot about what would be "the right thing" to do in a contemporary world where the limits between right and wrong seem more and more in question, for bad and for good. There is no discourse, no induction, no tapestry in Knock At The Cabin. The film invites everyone into the very trap it has created because it believes in it and (at least utopically) believes in the possibility of the audience relating to the drama beyond the surfaces. From the moment it puts its audience's beliefs in check, the movie closes its cycle, because it maintains the cohesion of always being close to its central characters.

          In this sense, the change made in the script of Knock At The Cabin in relation to the novel that originated it, The Cabin at the End of the World, by Paul Tremblay, is quite significant. In the book, the ambiguity remains, and the reader is given no answer as to the nature of the events that lead Leonard and company to the family. Will there be an apocalypse or not? Is sacrifice necessary or not? The worldview in this case seems somewhat limited, as it does not allow the characters to really understand themselves within the situation into which they have been forcibly placed (and the death of the little girl, in the book and non-existent in the film, hijacks the impact of the narrative, taking away the central motivation to create extra drama). In moving to the film screen, Tremblay's story was modified in its final third and found new possibilities, even more in line with the type of narrative that most interests Shyamalan. By exposing the apocalypse as a factual event, literally witnessed by the characters as they look up and see airplanes crashing, the film demands from us an intellectually active posture. There is neither time nor space for shock pure and simple, nor for doubt; all that is left is action.

          At the end, the still-surviving characters come to terms with their worldviews (Leonard's departure, recognizing his own finitude, is not so different from Eric's ultimate choice moments later) so that, saving the world, they can pick through the emotional rubble. Ironically, Knock At The Cabin ends on an optimistic note, of looking forward, of salvation, precisely because the monster of spirituality has taken shape and been faced. Who can guarantee when the next one will come?

bottom of page