Master craftsmen of the creepy mystery thriller M. Night Shyamalan returns with Knock at the Cabin. Arguably one of his better efforts, a few structure stumbles keep this from being a top-tier effort but great performances and a tantalizing scenario makes it a worthwhile entry. Now on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray, the Dolby Vision transfer and Atmos audio are terrific with a nice assortment of extras. Recommended
Ever since his first big homerun hit with The Sixth Sense (where the hell is that 4K?), M. Night Shyamalan has struck a name for himself as a filmmaker with impressive storytelling ability and a knack for concocting exciting story premises. Whether or not the final product lives up to that potential is a different story altogether. Ever since the flawed but often terrifying Signs, Shyamalan has had a pretty bumpy track at the multiplex. The less said about The Last Airbender the better. Lately, it’s felt like his career trajectory is back on an upward swing and Knock at the Cabin proves the director still has the ability to unnerve and freak out an audience, even if the final film is not quite as good as it could have been.
This particular trip to a cabin in the woods doesn’t involve a book bound in human flesh and inked in blood. Instead, we see parents Eric (Jonathan Groff) and Andrew (Ben Aldridge) and their daughter Wen (Kristen Cui) taking a vacation in an idyllic rented cabin by a lake. But their peaceful vacation is cut short by the arrival of four visitors armed with strange hand-made "tools". Leonard (Dave Bautista), Sabrina (Nikki Amuka-Bird), Adriane (Abby Quinn), and Redmond (Rupert Grint) are there not to harm or hurt Eric, Andrew, and little Wen, but to warn them of their visions for the end of the world and that the fate of all humanity is in their hands.
Knock at the Cabin is almost terrific. The first half of the film is practically perfect. We meet our characters quickly, establish that baseline “normal” - and then Dave Bautista starts walking through the woods towards a little girl catching grasshoppers. It’s instantly creepy and suspenseful as one plot beat falls after the next. But then this would-be potboiler hits some structural stumbling blocks.
If Shyamalan has a particular weakness it's his use of flashbacks. While it can work in something like Unbreakable to give context for a particular character’s love of comic books, in almost every other movie in Shyamalan’s catalog it’s a tension-deflating detriment. Just as Knock at the Cabin is really gaining momentum, we get a flashback that's ultimately inconsequential. These scenes might aim to help establish and strengthen Eric, Andrew, and Wen’s relationship but the actors’ performances are already so good and powerful these scnes only work to stop the action. As each flashback comes up, a little more air is let out of that tension balloon. I’ll also say I wish Shyamalan had pulled back on the ending and left us with a more opaque Carpenter-style finale rather than opting for the clear and twist-free resolution. The best twist would have been to leave the audience hanging.
Thankfully the entire cast is pitch-perfect with a special call out for Bautista. Between his work on Guardians (especially Vol 3), Glass Onion, and the brief but excellent scene in Blade Runner 2049 - he’s already shown an impressive range as an actor. But his turn as Leonard is a genuinely excellent performance and manages to outshine practically everyone else in the room. Jonathan Groff and Ben Aldridge turn in excellent work as the trapped parents with little Kristen Cui in tow. While Bautista is the clear standout, Nikki Amuka-Bird and Abby Quinn each shine with Rupert Grint being almost completely unrecognizable from his Harry Potter days.
Small stumbles aside, I was actually pretty surprised by Knock at the Cabin. I’ve enjoyed (for the most part) Shyamalan’s recent career resurgence. He’s not on par with the best of his early works, but he’s better off than After Earth or The Happening. I thought Old was a great concept that just didn’t live up to its start. Knock at the Cabin is all around solid tension-filled terror with a great cast delivering emotionally impressive performances.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Knock at the Cabin drops by for a visit on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray from Universal in a two-disc 4k UHD + Blu-ray + Digital set. Pressed on a BD-100 disc, the 1080p arrives on a BD-50. The included digital copy is Movies Anywhere compatible and should port to all accepted streaming retailers. The discs are housed in a standard sturdy two-disc case with identical slipcover artwork. The discs load to static-image main menus with the bonus features panel along the right side of the screen.
Shot on 35mm and finished with a 4K DI, Knock at the Cabin comes inside with an often impressive Dolby Vision transfer (HDR10 included). From the jump fine facial features, production design, and costuming textures are all appreciable. The film thrives on almost uncomfortably close close-up shots of the actors for extended long takes of dialog. This gives you plenty of time to examine faces and all of the little crevices around eyes, smile lines, stubble, etc. Most of the action takes place inside one room of that cabin with only occasional drifts into the scenic woodlands outside so while there’s not a lot to look at, it’s beautifully shot and captured for this film with a fine layer of naturally cinematic film grain.
HDR has been well applied to give some lovely accents to the natural earth tones of deep browns and dark greens of the location. Primaries only have little flashes and flourishes but blue, red, and yellow tones all shine without looking oversaturated or too hot. Likewise, skin tones are healthy and human without appearing oranged or peached. Black levels are nice and inky for excellent shadow separation giving the image plenty of depth. Whites are nice and crisp. There are some television footage sequences that can be a little dodgy with some iffy-CGI effects, but those are brief and only a small complaint in the end.
Knock at the Cabin also shines with an effective claustrophobic Atmos track. It’s certainly not the most action-packed film, but the sound design manages to find clever uses for the surround and height channels. During the initial home invasion sequence, there are a number of startling and effective pin-point sound effects to give you a jump. Height channels are used sparingly for dynamic effects but instead are used to help fill out the soundscape accenting little creeks and thumps. A thunderstorm later on offers up some nice height-specific effects. Throughout the run, the dialog is clean and clear without issue - which is important since it's mostly a dialog-driven film. Herdís Stefánsdóttir’s score may not be very flashy, but it’s a welcome moody, creepy accent to the film with some unsettling low tones.
Bonus features for Knock at the Cabin are relatively sparse, mostly EPK filler. The behind-the-scenes featurette is pretty good, again a lot of talking head catered discussions about the film, but there are some interesting tidbits. Likewise the remaining short featurettes highlight respective aspects of the production, but nothing too in-depth or extensive. The few minutes of deleted scenes are interesting, but wise cuts, and if anything, there could have been another five to ten more minutes of deleted content and I think the final film would have been that much better.
Despite some story structure stumbles with a need to over-explain or wrap things up tight, Knock at the Cabin proved to be an effective emotional pot-boiler thriller. M. Knight Shyamalan again demonstrates he’s got some tricks up his sleeves but wisely avoids his most famous and overplayed trick - the twist ending. Not perfect, but I thought it was his best film in years. Now on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray from Universal, the film scores an excellent Dolby Vision transfer with a moody creepy Atmos mix to match. It may not be flashy visually or sonically speaking, but it’s a great A/V package. Bonus features may be slim, but they’re at least informative and worth looking at. Recommended.