Film Journal 2023: Knock at the Cabin
Directed by M. Night Shyamalan
Where to watch- now playing in most theaters
As a staunch M. Night defender, which seems par for the course for anyone who is a fan, I am pretty much here anytime he releases a new project. I have been particularly intrigued by Knock at the Cabin ever since picking up the book in preparation. I do like the book, but certain misgivings about some of its choices when it came to the story and execution left me convinced that this material would be a really good fit for M. Night as an adaptation. And beat for beat, start to finish, this left me feeling justified in my initial suspicions. Not only is this a great adaptation of the book, the changes it makes to the story perfectly address my misgivings about the source material.
Now, I want to be careful in articulating my feelings here, as one unfortunate byproduct of what are without a doubt complicated and polarizing feelings about M. Nights body of work is that, to speak positively about one of his projects tends to get interpreted as some notion of a “return to form”. I want to avoid such sentiments as I don’t think M. Night ever went out of favor for me, and I personally remain deeply appreciative of the fact that he refuses to cave to external pressures to become something that he is not. A not so popular opinion perhaps, but for as much as I enjoyed the film, Split almost went there for me. Which is why Glass remains one of my all time favorites, as it doubled down on what makes him who he is as a Director. Even with films like Old, a film that swings for the fences in ways that turned off the general audience, I still find much sustaining appreciation for the kind of stories he tells and the sort of emotinally laden and spiritually atune moments they can capture and evoke.
That is perhaps a lengthy caveat to say, Knock at the Cabin is both one of his most accessible works to date while also being true to form when it comes to his tendencies and his style. Along with being an extremely well structured film with near perfect pacing and a really sharp sense of focus, this is also a bonafide showcase for Dave Bautista. The whole cast is strong, but here M. Night proves his penchant for uncovering great performances from some unlikely places and giving performances a platform to demonstrate the full breadth of their talent.
Perhaps one of the most exciting aspects of this film is the way M. Night employs such strong religious imagery. This is steeped in biblical language, breathing this visual text into a western society that has perhaps become unfamiliar with the essential beats of the Christian story and other religious expressions. This film, given its use of the apocalyptic genre, makes one of the strongest cases for how to read revelation responsibly, to borrow a phrase from biblical scholar Micheal Gorman. Responsibly means recontextualizing a letter that speaks to its world into our present day with an eye for both the present evils and an eternal hope. The film delves into such topics as religious struggle and religious doubt, faith, conviction, hope, and the way these virtues align with a true expression of the divine. And true to M. Nights approach, he doesnt parlay these spiritual concerns into some otherworldly space, rather he imagines what it is for heaven to invade earth, for a striking christoformity to meet a cruciform imagination within a real world context. M. Night pulls from the source material a keen eye for bigger questions relating to a world where both good and evil seem to coexist in constant tension, shaping how it is that we engage it from one direction or another. He takes the particulars of this families experience, ripe with pertinant and real oppressive realities, and uses this to turn our eyes outward towards the world and upwards towards the divine with a redemptive and restorative lens. A powerful reflection on revelatory truth and genuine apocalyptic vision, and how it is that these things give us a way to make sense of the challenges of existence and the darkness that does persist. Where it does, love and beauty and light still remain. We simply need to engage it as particpants and image bearers.