‘Knock at the Cabin’ reviews: Dave Bautista gives ‘standout’ performance in M. Night Shyamalan’s ‘return to form’

On February 3, 2023, Universal Pictures released “Knock at the Cabin,” the latest film from director M. Night Shyamalan. While vacationing, a girl and her parents are taken hostage by armed strangers who demand that the family make a choice to avert the apocalypse. The thriller stars Dave Bautista, Jonathan Groff and Ben Aldridge.

The film’s early reviews are mostly positive, earning a 67% freshness rating from critics and an audience score of 73 on Rotten Tomatoes. The consensus reads, “Although it’s often less than scary and parts of the story don’t bear scrutiny, ‘Knock at the Cabin’ is a thought-provoking chiller and upper-tier Shyamalan.” Read our full review roundup below.

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Jason Best of What To Watch describes the film as “A return to form for ‘The Sixth Sense’ director,” before noting, “Shyamalan’s ersatz mysticism unbalances the story.” Preventing the apocalypse is in the hands of a “second-grade school teacher and part-time bartender Leonard (Bautista), post-op nurse Sabrina (Nikki Amuka-Bird), Ariadne (Abby Quinn), a line cook in a Mexican restaurant, and their companion Redmond (Rupert Grint).” The critic concludes, “’Knock at the Cabin’ has already been hailed in some quarters as Shyamalan’s return to form. That said, those filmgoers previously irritated by his propensity for mystical woo will probably still come away disappointed. Yet others will definitely be happy to see him nimbly sidestep pitfalls that have bedeviled some of his earlier movies. Shyamalan doesn’t only have a reputation for late-breaking plot twists.”

Dan Bayer of Next Best Picture notes that the director’s films are known for having major plot twists and “Knock at the Cabin” continues that trend. “But with his latest film, Shyamalan has delivered his best film in years, an exercise in sustained tension that gains so much from its intimate nature, aided by a top-notch cast that knows how to elevate the script with their performances.” He continues, “The religious overtones of the intruders’ visions and prophecies take center stage, prompting some interesting questions: What would a modern-day prophet look like? Wouldn’t they sound like crazy people? Does that mean we see more clearly now, or we saw more clearly way back when?” Bayer praises “Bautista is the stand-out, granting Leonard a sense of calm that is at once friendly and deeply unsettling. His unwavering faith and domineering physical presence mark him as dangerous, but by turning his performance inward, Bautista keeps Leonard grounded in something real and slightly sad, making him far more interesting a character than he is on the page.” 

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Leah Greenblatt of Entertainment Weekly begins by stating that the apocalypse is nothing new to the director but in this film, based on a novel by Paul Tremblay, he is less as successful. She writes, “[Shyamalan’s] script often fails to make any real sense. Huge questions go unasked and explanations unoffered as a cabin full of terrified people whisper-yell at each other, then say the same things again when they don’t feel heard the first time.” She concludes, “Shyamalan may be saying something meaningful about faith or environmental destruction or the corrosive fraying of the social contract (could this vigilante crew really be motivated by pure homophobia, as Andrew believes?). But the message is mostly lost in sentiment, and a lingering sense of the better, messier movie that might have been.”

Matt Donato of IGN Movies says, “M. Night Shyamalan’s ‘Knock at the Cabin’ feels out of alignment with the filmmaker’s catalog of twist-heavy, suspense-latent thrillers. Maybe that’s because this time Shyamalan has collaborated with two co-writers – Steve Desmond and Michael Sherman – while adapting Paul Tremblay’s devastating novel, ‘The Cabin at the End of the World.’” Donato adds that the film “is occasionally effective but rarely affecting, which doesn’t match the bleak tragedy at the heart of Tremblay’s story.” The performances save the film though. “Bautista ends up being the standout as this hulking conversationalist busting out of his pedestrian button-down shirt, capable of destructive violence and yet softly rationalizing through dialogue with the charismatic command of a cult leader. Child performances aren’t always reliable, but Kristen Cui is a darling addition to scenes because she brings out Bautista’s warm compassion or emboldens Groff and Aldridge as partners.” Donato concludes, “This cabin’s got solid bones, yet is disappointingly barren on the inside.”

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