M. Night Shyamalan made his name with cool climactic plot twists in “The Sixth Sense” and “Unbreakable.”
He’s been hit or miss with his subsequent films, but with each you still can’t help but expect a mind-blowing finale. And if you don’t get it, you feel cheated.
Maybe that’s not fair to Shyamalan. And maybe he could argue: “You didn’t get a big surprise? Not getting one IS the big surprise!” But that’s a pretty lame excuse.
Besides, since he continues to create bizarre, “Twilight Zone” situations that lend themselves to a “Whoa, didn’t see that one coming” kind of ending, it’s no wonder we continue to watch his films with such expectations.
Shyamalan’s latest, “Knock at the Cabin” (R, 100 minutes, in theaters), fails to deliver the knockout punch.
So it’s a disappointment. But it also presents a thought-provoking situation that has us asking, “What would we do?” Plus, it showcases one especially memorable performance.
The film begins with Wen (Kristen Cui) and her two dads, Eric (Jonathan Groff) and Andrew (Ben Aldridge), vacationing in a remote cabin in Pennsylvania. Soon comes the titular knock at the door. Four people – leader Leonard (Dave Bautista), Sabrina (Nikki Amuka-Bird), Adriane (Abby Quinn) and Redmond (Rupert Grint of “Harry Potter” fame) – insist on coming in.
Are these intruders Manson family types? Crooks? Evangelists? Pollsters? Door-to-door Encyclopedia sales people?
It’s impossible to tell, and Eric and Andrew aren’t inclined to find out. They politely, then more vehemently, tell the quartet to go away. But Leonard and company won’t take no for an answer.
They break in, and explain that they’re there to save the world – literally. But in order to accomplish that mission, Eric, Andrew and Wen have to make a horrible sacrifice – and they have to do so willingly.
Thanks, but no thanks, Wen’s dads say. But it doesn’t end there.
Meanwhile, like Eric and Andrew, we wonder what’s really going on. Is the world really in danger of ending? And, if so, why would their sacrifice be necessary? What if it’s all a hoax? What if the intruders have been brainwashed to believe, sincerely, in what they’re saying and doing? Or is this a biblical situation come to modern life, and the result somehow will all come down to faith?
Shyamalan, as director and one of three credited screenwriters (who based the script on a novel by Paul Tremblay), does provide answers and even a twist of sorts. But it all lacks the impact of his best work.
Bautista is great, however, as Leonard. The former pro wrestler, best known for playing the comically literal-minded behemoth Drax the Destroyer in Marvel movies featuring the Guardians of the Galaxy, can’t help but be physically imposing. With his shaven head, he looks like a huge bullet – if bullets had bulging muscles. Bautista plays against this as Leonard by speaking gently, with empathy and intelligence. He seems like the voice of reason – either that, or he’s just quietly insane.
I could see him playing Death in a remake of Bergman’s “The Seventh Seal.” And that’s a compliment. **½ (out of four)
** Click here for Tim Miller’s previous movie columns for Cape Cod Wave **
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Tim Miller is co-president of the Boston Society of Film Critics. He teaches film and journalism at Cape Cod Community College in West Barnstable. You can contact Tim at [email protected] or follow him onTwitter @TimMillerCritic. Or you can ignore him completely.