Review by Daniel Blackaby February 3, 2023
Knock at the Cabin (Christian Movie Review)
Verdict: Despite an intriguing concept and some interesting spiritual themes, the film falls well short of its potential.
About The Movie
Would you sacrifice someone you loved to save the world? On the surface, Knock at the Cabin is a psychological horror film with all the elements of a classic M. Night Shyamalan flick: a contained location; an interesting, high-concept premise; and the same faith v. disbelief theme he has explored in many of his best films (Signs, Unbreakable). It’s an intriguing concept in the hands of one of Hollywood’s most interesting, spiritually minded directors. Unfortunately, the individual pieces never come together to make a satisfying or worthwhile whole.
The plot revolves around a same-sex couple and their adoptive daughter who are vacationing at a cabin in the forest when four mysterious strangers appear and make a shocking ultimatum: the family must willingly choose to sacrifice one member to prevent the apocalypse. With every “no,” a plague on humanity will be released. The narrative includes a lot for Christians to process, with a front-and-center same-sex romance and the idea—whether true or false—of a vindictive God requiring human sacrifices. At the same time, the film asks hard questions and explores—with varying degrees of success—interesting spiritual themes. The result is a film that is occasionally thought-provoking but not necessarily good.
The tension hinges on keeping audiences guessing whether the shocking scenario is true. Are the four strangers merely religious fanatics? Is the whole thing a hoax designed to target the family due to the parents’ sexuality? Is apocalypse truly imminent? At its best, the film showcases the characters wrestling with and reevaluating their beliefs in the face of seemingly mounting evidence.
Unfortunately, the spiritual aspect is often neglected, as Shyamalan instead chooses to focus on the relationship between the two men through flashbacks. His choice makes sense on a narrative level, emphasizing the nature of the potential sacrifice. Too often, though, it distracts from the more interesting story unfolding in the cabin. Furthermore, the movie never shows the relationship under anything but the most positive light, so these scenes become repetitive.
The film struggles to sustain much forward momentum, lacking a sense of escalating tension. There are simply not enough compelling clues to develop the central mystery. I found myself waiting until the end for the answer to be revealed rather than trying to discover it for myself. The ending, when it comes, is unsatisfying, finishing with a clean-cut and Hollywood-ized landing rather than anything bold or ambiguous.
In the end, Knock at the Cabin fails to deliver on its potential. As an R-rated horror movie about a same-sex couple forced to offer a human sacrifice in order to appease a vindictive God and prevent the end of the world, Knock at the Cabin will be an easy pass for many Christians. There are certainly some interesting elements scattered throughout, and I am intrigued whenever a mainstream Hollywood film explores faith and spirituality. In this case, however, I found myself more captivated by what the film could have been than by the film itself.
On the Surface
Language: There is heavy profanity, including frequent uses of the F-word, plenty of minor profanities (“sh—, “d—,” “b—rd,” etc.), and several crude words (“d—k,” etc.). There are also several abuses of God’s name.
Violence: The violence is gruesome, but almost entirely implied or off-screen. Several characters have their head smashed in and are hacked with weapons as part of a religious ritual, and a character slits his own throat. The smashed-head scene is framed from the neck down, showing the blood stream down, but not the head itself. The slit-throat incident also takes place off-screen (although the camera does briefly show the bloodied throat later).
Sexuality: The film focuses on a same-sex couple, “Daddy Eric” and “Daddy Andrew,” as their adoptive daughter refers to them. Their relationship is portrayed prominently throughout the action and in flashbacks, including scenes showing an awkward dinner with unaccepting parents, the adoption of their daughter (which involves lying about their sexuality), and the couple experiencing bigotry in a bar. Throughout the film, the characters assume they are being targeted for their sexuality, despite promises to the contrary. Later, it is implied they may have been selected because “their love is so pure.”
Spirituality: In the orphanage, there is a mural depicting Jesus playing soccer with kids, and a man tells another man he can pray if he wants to. The film explores several spiritual themes (see below for more).
Beneath The Surface
Engage The Film
God, Sacrifice, and Salvation
Knock at the Cabin shines an interesting light on the gospel by showcasing its opposite. In the world of the film, the ruling deity is judgmental and vindictive. The world is sinful, and that sin requires a sacrifice to prevent the full, wrathful judgment of God from being poured out. The movie is consistent with a Christian worldview up until the solution is presented. In the film, humanity must pay the price for its own wickedness. The most “innocent” among them must pay the price to appease God’s wrath and delay his violent judgment. Such a bleak religious picture testifies to the beauty of the Christian gospel, in which God paid the sacrifice himself by sending Jesus to the cross. The movie depicts a hellish reality absent of “for God so loved the world” (John 3:16), in which God is just, but lacks love.
Faith and Doubt
How long can someone ignore coincidences before accepting that there may be a higher purpose behind them? This theme seems to be Shyamalan’s favorite to explore. Knock at the Cabin examines the challenge of believing even when you don’t want to believe. One of the four strangers shares how she was raised religious but abandoned her faith because she found it all boring and outdated. She explains how the current situation has caused her to rediscover her belief. She repeats a mantra she was told as a child: “Trust in something more than you.”
Both captured men take different paths to determine their belief. One of them “feels” the truth but struggles to repress it because of his love for those around him. The other, more incredulous character resists, declaring “I need to believe it is all mere coincidence.” He is set in his lack of faith and fights any evidence that challenges his skepticism. In the end, the film establishes that truth is not what we want it to be but what is. Often, it is not a lack of evidence but an unwillingness to be honest that prevents belief.