Metro Weekly

‘Knock at the Cabin’ Review: Sacrificial Lambs

M. Night Shyamalan’s home invasion thriller 'Knock at the Cabin' strikes fast and keeps the tension boiling.

Jonathan Groff and Kristen Cui in Knock at the Cabin

What a week for onscreen gay couples surviving by their wits and tenacity at the possible end of the world. As a nation of shook TV viewers still gather their feelings about the epic story of queer love and fortitude depicted in the latest episode of HBO’s The Last of Us, enter M. Night Shyamalan’s Knock at the Cabin  (★★★☆☆) with its tale of two gay dads and their cute kid under siege by doom-spouting strangers who show up on their doorstep.

So it’s a bad week for Eric and Andrew, two city gays seeking peace, and quiet afternoons of sipping wine on the deck of their rented cabin in the Pennsylvania woods, while adopted six-year-old daughter Wen (Kristen Cui) frolics in nature.

Eric and Andrew do have the good fortune to be played by Jonathan Groff and Ben Aldridge, who portray the couple’s companionship convincingly, and look great doing it, even while tied up, and doused in blood and bruises.

Shyamalan — who, along with Michael Sherman and Steve Desmond, adapted Paul Tremblay’s horror novel The Cabin at the End of the World — wastes no time putting the tight-knit family unit under threat. A massively muscular, tattooed dude named Leonard (Dave Bautista) calmly, creepily approaches Wen as she’s out in the forest alone, telling her he’s “hoping to make new friends.”

Moments later, Leonard’s leading three other disparate strangers — Sabrina (Nikki Amuka-Bird), Redmond (Rupert Grint), and Adriane (Abby Quinn) — in a startling home invasion that Shyamalan stages with taut panic and suspense. Four determined yahoos wielding rudely-fashioned axes and maces outside the vulnerable log cabin amount to an unstoppable tide of terror. They will get inside, and then what will they do?

Somewhat subverting the big-twist formula for which he’s praised and pilloried, depending on the film, Shyamalan stokes anticipation of a shocking turn, yet maintains the movie’s focus on the present moment.

Leonard and his friends explain that they’ve seen the apocalypse, and it can only be avoided by a sacrifice that the universe demands of this particular family. So, believe these weirdos and serve up a sacrifice to save the world, or figure out a way to save your family right now.

Eric and Andrew’s agony over the choices they’re forced to make intensifies as their time runs out, as does the danger that somehow this threat will divide them, which clearly would be fatal. They’ll only survive this if they stick together, which gives air to the film’s most suspenseful question: why must this family make the sacrifice? 

Abby Quinn, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Dave Bautista and Rupert Grint

Leonard, Sabrina, Redmond, and Annie share similar nightmarish visions, and ponder the religious meaning, but insist they were led to this cabin randomly. They claim to bear no ill will towards the LGBTQ community, or same-sex couples having families. Although, a subplot involving flashbacks to a prior incident of anti-gay violence dangles clues that perhaps this family was targeted, and for exactly that reason.

Shyamalan doesn’t invest the socio-political commentary with depth, but rather exploits the mystery within the mystery just to keep Eric and Andrew, and the audience, guessing. Occasionally, watching the filmmaker’s body of work, it can appear he starts with the idea for a shocking twist, then works backwards, shoving characters and motives into place, in order to arrive at some mind-blowing “it was the trees all along” twist. The gay-bashing subplot here feels like that, more convenient than compelling.

What is continually compelling are the performances (most of them), led by Groff and, especially, Aldridge — nicely bookending his recent turn as one-half of a gay couple battling adversity in Spoiler Alert — with his kick-ass Andrew, who definitely won’t surrender without a fight. 

Bautista adds nuance with his placid but perhaps insane prophet of doom, and Nikki Amuka-Bird offers excellent support as nurse Sabrina, who tends to their hostages’ wellbeing while remaining fiercely committed to the squad’s deadly task.

Meanwhile, adorable Cui as Wen stays alert to the dangers facing her family. It looks like the same scourge bearing down on families everywhere: a doom cult bent on sacrificing love and innocence to their nightmare vision of the world.

Knock at the Cabin is playing at theaters nationwide. Visit

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