believe hard as proud
Shyamalan’s cinema almost always tells the same thing: characters who struggle not to believe, whether in a story that is beyond them (a threat, an invasion, an end of the world) or a role that they refuse to assume (to be a saviour, to be a leader, to be dead). The director and screenwriter therefore has only one objective: that the public also believes in it, and follows it to the end of the world and twists, even if it means using the concept of suspension of disbelief to the last string. That’s why Shyamalan was so quickly trapped in his cinema: it’s easy to want to believe it, and even more so to want to laugh about it.
Still standing despite a career that has known as many ups and downs as good taste on Large Screen, Shyamalan returns to the source of evil with his 15th film. Knock at the Cabin looks like a new testament to his cinema, and an ultimate note of intent. It’s the film that sums up all his films, and the story that tells all the others.
The principle is simple: four people force their way into a family’s house, and implore them to believe in their story. Why ? Because the future of the world depends on it. In the role of Shyamalan (with a few tens of kilos more muscles), Dave Bautista is the master narrator, the one who had a vision and wants to share it. In the role of the public, the family (seated and tied to chairs, a somewhat brutal version of cinema) is summoned to open their eyes and ears, and let themselves be carried away by the story. The device is so simple it could be comical, but Shyamalan believes in it so much that Knock at the Cabin quickly turns into a dizzying and thrilling thriller.
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In a scene from signsShyamalan’s best film (Editor’s note: the team wishes to dissociate itself from Geoffrey), Mel Gibson asks his brother Phoenix: “You have to ask yourself what kind of person you are. Are you one of those who see signs, miracles? Or do you think people are just lucky? Is it possible that there are no coincidences?“. Knock at the Cabin talk about coincidence again, and it’s not a coincidence: the two films match each other perfectly, to create an exciting Shyamalanesque echo.
Isolated house in nature, invaders appearing out of nowhere, family coming together to face the threat, television as the only window to the outside, flashbacks to write the characters during the action: it is an almost exact copy of signs. Except that in the alien film, it was an external struggle with extraterrestrials coming to attack the home to destroy it. In Knock at the Cabinit’s an internal war, and that’s why the home invasion is settled in a few scenes. Everything will be played out in this hut transformed into a theater stage, where the characters will themselves reduce their little world to nothing, with the “simple” power of a story.
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Because the real invader appears over the minutes: it is the story itself which gradually settles in the house, infiltrates people’s minds and threatens to overturn everything (convictions, power relations, the film, and therefore the whole world). While one of the dads fights desperately to try to find the flaws in the story, and to rationalize the slightest proof and the slightest sign, the other indulges in the ultimate temptation: to believe it. The film will thus be a slow slide towards the heart of Shyamalan’s cinema – and if it was true ? What if I wanted it to be true? What if it were true precisely because I want to believe it?
The mirror game between the characters and the spectators, all screwed to their armchairs and prisoners in their own way, then becomes deliciously clever. It is a kidnapping (consensual, public side)and just like his visionary on-screen alter ego, Shyamalan has 90 minutes to convince.
It’s all the more pleasant and playful that the director and screenwriter has curbed some ridiculous impulses. He gives himself a role, but so derisory that he himself seems to put his ego in the closet (especially after his grotesque role in Old). He stages this part of the public which resists his cinema, but with a real character to embody it (and not a buffoon like the critic in The Water Maiden). Result : it’s devilishly simple, effective and without detour. Here, like signs.
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But Knock at the Cabin is not a smart guy’s meta pensum. It’s first and foremost a fearsome thriller, packed with a know-how that recalls the great hours of the filmmaker. After the fiascos after-earth and The last air Masterwho confirmed in the flames of Hollywood hell that he must no longer touch the visual effects (the creatures of signs and The Water Maiden were warnings), Shyamalan returned to a cinema on a human scale. And even more than the previous ones, Knock at the Cabin shows that it was a wise decision.
From the first minutes, he attaches himself to a simple shot-reverse shot, and rests on the most basic cinema tools : faces, words, sounds, off-screen, silence. He does not reinvent the powder and always drags his big clogs (there is something strange happening, therefore: plans debubbled), but it is a saving return to basics. In a few moments, he marvelously sets the scene for this cabin in the woods, which could just as well be on another planet, it is so strange.
Dented by the pileups of the years 2000-2010, Shyamalan’s staging has certainly lost its panache (which almost coincides with the end of his collaboration with the excellent James Newton Howard). The impeccable precision ofUnbreakable Where signs seems to belong to another world, and Knock at the Cabin doesn’t offer such striking shots or camera movements. But the director finds real mastery, as if starting from scratchand consciously returned to the primary tools of his cinema.
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And among these tools, there are of course the actors. Shyamalan is the man who magnificently managed heavyweights like Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson and Mel Gibson. In Knock at the Cabinhe uses Dave Bautista in a particularly interesting and amazing way, playing on his colossus physique to create ambiguity and concern from the first scene. This is not the first time that the wrestler has impressed (his memorable scene of blade runner 2049his comedic timing in Guardians of the Galaxyits energy in Glass Onion), but this is probably the first time that it has had so much space to exist, and play on so many nuances.
Facing him, Nikki Amuka-Bird (already in Old) and especially Ben Aldridge are doing well, with fantastic peaks of intensity. And that’s where Shyamalan’s cinema is finally well and truly back: in emotion. His best films are those that made you want to drown the chills in tears. They always stay a few steps ahead of Knock at the Cabin, but Shyamalan is back in the running. And that may be the only proof that miracles do exist.
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