Review: Fear comes knockin’ with ‘Knock at the Cabin’

Having death at your doorstep is a horrific idea but is at the core of M. Night Shyamalan’s latest mystery based on Paul G. Tremblay’s 2018 novel "The Cabin at the End of the World.”

A movie poster.
“Knock at the Cabin” is now playing at Lakes 12 Theatre in Baxter.
Brainerd Dispatch / Frank Lee

BAXTER — The stranger at the door — it’s almost a primal fear that anyone can relate to and it’s partly what makes “Knock at the Cabin” a scarily effective thriller.

Having death at your doorstep is a horrific idea but is at the core of M. Night Shyamalan’s latest mystery based on Paul G. Tremblay’s 2018 novel "The Cabin at the End of the World.”

“The Sixth Sense” director known (or derided) for his sometimes hard-to-fathom plot twists in his films surprisingly leaves out his trademark cinematic stunt in “Knock at the Cabin,” which is playing at Lakes 12 Theatre in Baxter.

Jonathan Groff and Ben Aldridge play a same-sex couple vacationing with their 7-year-old adopted daughter played by newcomer Kristen Cui in her feature film debut. Cui as Wen is out and about near the cabin rental collecting grasshoppers for a school project.

The cute-as-a-button girl encounters, however, a heavily tattooed and physically imposing yet soft-spoken man in the middle of the remote forest played by David Bautista, who moviegoers may remember as Drax the Destroyer from Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” film franchise.


Before you can say “stranger danger,” three others suddenly reveal themselves in the woods to join Bautista and together they march menacingly toward the cabin where the couple named Eric and Andrew remain oblivious of the approaching threat or the peril their daughter Wen is in.

That brings me to another arguably primal fear that any parent can relate to and that is the existential threat everyday things and daily interactions with society can bring or pose to your child, who most parents love more than anything else in the world and would do anything for.

The R-rated movie that runs almost 90 minutes does not let up on the pressure in that regard. The four intruders that suddenly show up to interrupt the family’s idyllic vacation do not explicitly threaten Wen or physically harm the girl in the movie but one cannot help but fear for her.

The feature film adaptation of Tremblay’s 2018 novel "The Cabin at the End of the World” remains relatively faithful to its literary source material except for the motion picture’s ending; the four strangers tell the family they must choose to kill one of their own or the world will end.

The reason for the apocalyptic prophecy that Bautista’s character Leonard — a bespeckled teacher who comes across at first glance like a bouncer at a seedy bar rather than the respected and caring educator he would like the parents to believe he is – is never explained.

Leonard tells the understandably doubtful parents that the family has to willingly select one of the three — either one of the adults or their child — to sacrifice for the greater good, which is the survival of the rest of humanity. If a choice isn’t made, the trio will be the only ones left to live.

Rupert Grint surprisingly makes an extended cameo in Shylaman’s new release as Redmond, one of the other possibly delusional and fanatic believers who, along with Leonard, have come upon the family to impress upon the three how important their role will be in all of this.

Grint is an English actor who is no stranger to the big screen and is a familiar sight to fans of the “Harry Potter” film franchise. The redhead plays a brief but pivotal role in “Knock at the Cabin.”


Having to make decisions with life-altering consequences and just trying to survive in a world that seemingly poses a threat at every turn is something most of us can relate to and maybe it’s the reason that critics have been generous in their qualified praise of the film.

“Knock at the Cabin” currently has a 68% approval rating among critics and a 65% approval rating among audiences at Rotten Tomatoes, a review-aggregation website for film and television.

The consensus from the critics at "Although it's often less than scary and parts of the story don't bear scrutiny, ‘Knock at the Cabin’ is a thought-provoking chiller and upper-tier Shyamalan."

FRANK LEE is a movie columnist for the Brainerd Dispatch. He may be reached at 218-631-6470 or at .

I cover the community of Wadena, Minn., and write mostly features stories for the Wadena Pioneer Journal. The newspaper is owned by Forum Communications Co.
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