Knock at the Cabin

This looks like a home invasion horror film, but it has a different take on that genre, one that is not quite given away by the trailer, and it is a pretty good turn. That said, the biggest spoiler that is possible is to say that M. Night Shyamalan leans into the concept of the story, and there is no big twist ending. It plays out in a very straight forward manner, generating all of it’s tension from the impossible choice that is being given to the family. 

Without going into too much plot, the family is tasked with making a sacrifice and the four strangers who have captured them in the vacation cabin, attempt to convince them that the prediction of the apocalypse is real. Most of the dramatic elements of the film revolve around this attempt at persuasion. The strategies used seem to de-escalate instead of building. Force and threat is the first approach, conveyed by Ron Weasley himself, Rupert Grint. Since this approach dissipates quickly, you might think that the tension level would drop, but instead it actually increases. 

The emotional plea is very effective if you can empathize with Adrienne, the cook played by Abby Quinn. She is sincere and seems motivated by her desire to save her own child from the horrors that the visions hold for the four heralds who have invaded the house. One of the reasons that her empathetic pleas fail to register with one of the two dads in the story, is that he dismisses even the existence of her child. In a strange quirk, one of the reasons he doubts any of the people who have shown up is a prejudice he has built up in reaction to an attack on him many years earlier. He has associated the homophobic assault from earlier, with religious beliefs, and since the four people presenting this scenario seem to believe that this is a divine message, then the whole thing appears as a plot to Andrew, played by Ben Aldridge. The other dad, Eric, played by Johnathan Groff, has some religious background and he seems more open to at least listen to what has been said. 

Another element that keeps the tension up is that the two das and their little girl, respond exactly as you would think a rational person would to this kind of approach. They are fearful, convinced that the four people are delusional fanatics who have met on a message board and are playing out some social contagion of end of times beliefs. They fight in any way they can when given the opportunity. The irrational beliefs of the four invaders overwhelm their rational explanations and approaches to the embattled family. Apart from one character, the other three all seem sincere and even tempered. One is a little desperate, but all of them are trying to find convincing ways to influence the family to choose. 

Dave Batista as Leonard, the apparent leader of the four, is calm, even tempered, and approaches the little girl Wen, in as non-threatening a manner as a man of his looks could come up with. There are a couple of action moments, but Batista is not here to exert control through his physical power, but rather, his level even toned voice and his demonstrable regret at what he feels they are compelled to do. It is a very good performance from an actor that is going against type to make the story work. 

I have a few reservations about the interpretations that get offered in the climax of the film. I think that the flashbacks of the family are fine, but I also think some history of the antagonists would have made this more understandable. The effects found at the end of the film, are not quite enough to explain how it all came together. The cryptic drawings and doodles in the opening are not much help either. This was a pretty effective thriller, if you can buy into the premise. It is easy enough to do, most of us have played “would you rather” a couple of times in conversations. This just gives us the ultimate version of that party prompt.  


This weekend was all back to basics at the movies. “Crawl” is a straightforward horror/thriller and “Stuber” is a honest to goodness action/comedy. Once in a while there were bits and pieces of social justice issues raised, but they are ultimately mocked or conventionally accepted and the film is about the jokes and the laughs rather than anything serious.  Kumail Nanjani did not write this screenplay, but it fits him as easily as the part he wrote for himself in the Oscar Nominated screenplay for “The Big Sick“. He plays Stu, a meek guy trying to make ends meet and get the girl of his dreams at the same time. His part time Uber gig brings him into contact with a hard as nails cop, played by Dave Bautista.

Buddy cop movies have been around for a long time and the variations are numerous. We’ve had old cop/young cop stories, goodcop/bad cop morality tales, and cops paired with dogs, Russians, Zombies, and even a T-Rex. Some of those movies were action films with a little comedy thrown in, “Stuber” is the opposite, it is a comedy with a little action added to it. The reason that the cop has to take uber is that he is recovering from lasik eye surgery and has basically become Mr. Magoo with a gun. This movie is filled with slap stick moments, some as simple as tripping or banging your head accidentally because your vision is impaired, but other moments of slap stick involve shooting people in the head or running them over with a car. The tone of the film sometimes tries to play it seriously, but we never do because there is way too much screaming.

The two main actors are solid in what are likely to become their signature character types. Nanjani is the striving outsider with difficulty expressing himself. Bautista is the bull in a china shop, ready at any moment to break something within arms reach. It may be a little unfair to pigeon hole them at this point, but let’s face it, stereotyping is  what casting is all about, and we know immediately what these characters are by who is playing them. The plot of the story is fairly standard cop movie stuff [dead partner/rogue cop/drug gang/duplicitous superiors etc.] What is creative here is the use of contemporary culture touchstones like cell phones, spin classes, and uber itself, to tell the story. Stu has movie culture to refer to in trying to cope with the circumstances he has found himself in. There are a half dozen cues picked up from other films that tell him how to behave or what to expect. Of course none of that comes out the way it is supposed to. As a straight man, Dave Bautista is solid but he has something else going for him, His charisma would allow him to play the part straight, but he has good comic timing and a voice that can make a joke work, even when it is not very good.

You will not remember the plot of the film for long after you see it. There are so many cliches involving the cop story that it will run together with dozens of other films. Heck, even the strained relationship between Bautista’s character and his daughter, is a trope that was mined in “Crawl”  . Parents and their adult children sometimes have issues, big surprise. The thing that will hold over in your head however is the comic relationship between the two leads. It’s a silly premise and there is no reality to the cop procedural stuff, but who cares about that when you are laughing.

I’m willing to endorse a film if it gives me four or five good laughs, and maybe one hysterical moment. Although I think they overdo the screaming moments of the film a bit, there were at least a dozen times that I laughed out loud. As someone who is suspicious of the range of an electric car, there is a joke waiting to happen, and it does. There were also some outright slap sticky moments with gun play in the film. And just for good measure as Henslowe advised in “Shakespeare in Love”, it’s always good to add a bit with a dog.