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'Knock at the Cabin' Shows a Different Side of M. Night Shyamalan
... and that's what hurts it.
I’m what you might call an M. Night Shyamalan loyalist. I find the film director and his cinematic visions so interesting and ambitious that I’ll pretty much always check out his latest movie. I don’t like all of his films (I actually think some are downright terrible), but I do like his outside-the-box thinking, and the inclusions of faith, family, and other spiritual themes in his work.
One thing all of his movies share in common is that they have strong concepts, well-developed characters, and typically start out pretty good. Also, the stories usually remain intriguing enough for most of the film. As far as whether the movie then goes on to hold the audience and stick the landing, or fades into profound disappointment… well, it’s really kind of a crap-shoot. And that’s why lots of movie-goers have been suspicious of Shyamalan for some time, and tend not to give his films the benefit of the doubt anymore.
But I still do, even when the decision ultimately comes back to haunt me. I understand as well as anyone that for every “The Sixth Sense,” there’s a “Lady in the Water.” For every “Unbreakable,” there’s an “After Earth.” For every “Split,” there’s a “Glass.” And I’m always there for it, rooting the director on… for better or for worse.
Last week, I saw Shyamalan’s new film, “Knock at the Cabin.” And truth be told, I had a good feeling about it. It was hard not to with how absolutely killer the teaser trailer was:
Spoiler Alert: If you don’t want to know any more about the film, go ahead and scroll down to the the “Random Thought” section.
But as I’ve learned all too many times, a spectacular, compelling trailer far from guarantees a film of equal or better quality (I even wrote a piece on that topic a while back).
And unfortunately, that was the case with Knock at the Cabin. It fell short of expectations, though I wouldn’t call it bad — just okay. What struck me as particularly strange about the film is that it didn’t feel like Shyamalan was who had directed it. It didn’t seem like his style, even from the get-go.
One of the things I consistently like about Shyamalan is the way he introduces characters. He lays them out well, they’re interesting and compelling, and by the time the story really starts to develop, you already have a good feel for what his characters are about.
That wasn’t the case this time. In fact, the trailer above does a far better job of introducing the protagonists than the film itself does. The trailer begins with a loving family enjoying some vacation time at a cabin in a secluded, wooded area. As the young daughter is playing outside, an imposing stranger creepily appears from the woods and begins walking toward her.
That’s not how the film unfolds. In fact, that scene with the stranger (former pro-wrestler Dave Bautista) emerging from the woods is the first of the movie. He’s already talking to the little girl, and describing part of his reason for being there, before the audience knows virtually anything about the fathers… who haven’t even appeared on camera up til that point (the scenes with the family driving to the cabin, singing aloud, and swimming in the pond, are inexplicably reserved for flashbacks later in the film).
The movie basically leads with its premise and even its major action scene (as depicted in the trailer), before the audience has even had a chance to invest in the characters. And though the characters are better developed as the movie goes on, the seemingly “let’s move things along” sequencing of the film never really lets the audience catch up with how they should feel about the family (which is key to the story) or even the nuanced intruders (an especially interesting one is gone before you know it). The presentation was very un-Shyamalan like, and the odd hurriedness persisted throughout the entire film (not merely in accordance with a time element that does exist in the story).
Also, if you were expecting some profound twist at the end, as Shyamalan has been well-known to deliver, think again. Things were played uncharacteristically safe, not just with the ending, but also with some touched-on themes throughout.
Still, like I said, the film isn’t bad. It’s just not so great. I think what saves it, beyond the eeriness of its premise, is the acting… most notably Dave Bautista’s. While all of the actors and actresses do a great job with what they’ve been given, Bautista (who most know these days from his portrayal of super-hero Drax the Destroyer in the Marvel films) particularly shines. Some of it certainly has to do with his unique, hulkish appearance (which adds to the film’s tension), but the soothing, morally nuanced delivery of his lines and mannerisms is especially impressive. Shyamalan recently referred to Bautista as a “complex” actor. Prior to this film, I wouldn’t have bought it. Now I’m a believer.
I just wish Shyamalan would have borrowed more from his own arsenal, and taken the type of risks he’s taken in the past. If he had, this film could have been one of his stand-outs — of the good variety. Unfortunately, it felt more like a placeholder for whatever he comes up with a next… which I’ll assuredly check out.
Have a favorite M. Night Shyamalan film? If so, let me know it in an email or in the comment section below. Mine’s “Unbreakable.”
Obligatory Dog Shot
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Today’s album was sort of a “meh, why not?” type purchase a few weeks ago from a record store I had a gift-card to. I do like blues music, though I don’t listen to a ton of it. But I’m glad I picked this one up.
B.B. King’s “In London” from 1971 is a smooth listen. King, an absolute legend, is accompanied by a number of big U.S. and British musicians of that time, and the result is lots of guitar-driven coolness that sounds particularly good in vinyl.
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