A home invasion gets apocalyptic in 'Knock At The Cabin' : Pop Culture Happy Hour In the horror film Knock at the Cabin, a gay couple and their young daughter are vacationing at a remote cabin when four strangers arrive and take them hostage. They are told the only thing that will prevent the apocalypse is if one of the family members willingly sacrifices his or her life. The film is directed by M. Night Shyamalan, with a cast that includes Dave Bautista, Jonathan Groff, Ben Aldridge, and more.

A home invasion gets apocalyptic in 'Knock At The Cabin'

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In the horror film "Knock At The Cabin," a gay couple and their young daughter are vacationing at a remote cabin when four strangers arrive with weapons and take them hostage. The group appears remorseful as they inform the family that the world is ending and that they've been led to this cabin by psychic visions; and further, that the only thing that will prevent the apocalypse is if one of the family members willingly sacrifices his or her life. Are the strangers lying about their motivations? Has the family been targeted by homophobes or cultists? Or might the world actually be ending? That's the tension director M. Night Shyamalan is playing with. I'm Glen Weldon. And today, we're talking about "Knock At The Cabin" on POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR. Joining me today is host of Weekend Edition Sunday, Ayesha Rascoe. Hey, Ayesha.


WELDON: Welcome. Welcome. Also joining us is NPR Consider This producer Marc Rivers. Hey, Marc.

MARC RIVERS, BYLINE: Hey, Glen. Thanks for having me.

WELDON: Of course. Let's get to it. So in "Knock At The Cabin," Jonathan Groff and Ben Aldridge star as Eric and Andrew, whose vacation with their young daughter Wen, played by Kristen Cui, is interrupted by a home invasion. Dave Bautista plays Leonard, the leader of the group that takes the family hostage, a group consisting of Nikki Amuka-Bird, Rupert Grint and Abby Quinn. The strangers claim to be experiencing apocalyptic visions and are convinced that the end of the world can only be avoided through blood sacrifice. The film was directed by M. Night Shyamalan and is based on Paul Tremblay's 2018 novel, "A Cabin At The End Of The World." "Knock At The Cabin" is in theaters now. Marc, start with you. What'd you think?

RIVERS: So I'm in a conundrum because, on one hand, I feel like if I don't recommend this movie, I'm afraid the world is going to end.


WELDON: That's the end of the movie.

RIVERS: But with Shyamalan, I can never have a full embracing of his movie. I mean, on the one hand, I think this is his most confident filmmaking in maybe 20 years. I mean, when it comes to his most potent scares, it always tends to revolve around some kind of home invasion. I'm thinking about that opening scene in the "Sixth Sense." I'm thinking about "Unbreakable." You know, "Signs" had both a home invasion and an extraterrestrial invasion. Having this movie be that scenario for him really concentrates and focuses his filmmaking in a way that I just haven't seen from him. I think this guy cannot come up with an uninteresting way of shooting the action, shooting the drama. Like, I was very involved in that way.

I think he's great at just, like, thematically and emotionally telling the story through the camera. But on the other hand, it's like he's brilliant, but he's, like, is kind of daft. Like, some of the stuff that I'm watching, it's just so silly. And the silliness and kind of, like, aspiring profundity kind of, like, jerked this way and that. Like, there's not an easy balance to the movie.

There's also really good acting here. I think Dave Bautista is really establishing himself as the real deal. I think he gives a really good performance. I think the two leads, Jonathan Groff and Ben Aldridge, they're very good, but I think they're carrying a script that is not doing enough work for them. I think some of the emotion it tries to reach towards the end was not fully earned, and the performers were trying to bring it over the hump, but it wasn't quite there. I don't know - some of the messaging feels a little bit muddled. I can imagine someone coming away from this movie thinking, like, QAnon people have - do they have it right? Are they on to something?


RIVERS: I don't know. So I was hoping for a little more ambiguity there. But there was less ambiguity to this movie than I hoped, and I was kind of disappointed in that. But, like, Shyamalan gives you - he gives you a lot while at the same time not giving you enough.

WELDON: Yeah. You know, he's known for twists, but he's been getting away from that recently.


WELDON: What you're talking about at the end of this film, it's not so much a twist but a revelation that the audience needs to go along with, just nod along with.

RIVERS: Right.

WELDON: And I didn't feel a lot of people nodding along with it. Ayesha, you've read the book.

RASCOE: I have read the book.

WELDON: Were you nodding along?

RASCOE: I was not nodding along. So, first of all, I really like Shyamalan. Y'all know that. I like old. And I like, obviously, his classic movies and "Signs" and all of that. I also like some of the TV shows he's produced. So I am a fan. So let's get that out of the way. I think this movie, Dave Bautista was great, amazing. I think the actors, the acting, I think that was great. You know, the little girl is so cute. It is very scary when they start breaking into the house. That is, like, very visceral, and it is evocative, right? I don't have a complaint about that. I think the issue for me is the plot, which I think for a lot of it, it was very close to the source material of the book. I will admit I didn't necessarily love all of the book - much respect to Paul Tremblay. But I think, like, part of the issue is that this drills down to a question - would you sacrifice a member of your family to save 7 billion other people? And that is, like, an interesting dinner party question.

RIVERS: A little icebreaker.

RASCOE: But I think if you're going to make that into a movie, I want more. I want more of a discussion. And no, just people just talking is not action. But that's kind of what the whole plot is. Like, I want a real grappling with this. Instead, we kind of get someone going, no, I wouldn't do that. And then someone's kind of like, hmm, maybe they have a point (laughter).


RASCOE: And I'm like, no. Like, there are so many questions that I have that aren't in the movie that, like, why is everybody else worth more than my family? Like, they don't really get into that. Why should we save other people and, like, get rid of ourselves? And then the other question that no one asks that bothers me to the end of time is like, well, if these people are right - and we're not saying they're right in the movie. You got to watch and find out. Why would I sacrifice my family member when, next week, somebody else could face the same question, make a different decision and we all die anyway? And I done gave my family away? (Laughter) Why?

WELDON: Yeah. Yeah.

RASCOE: No one ever asked that.


RASCOE: And that bothers me. And then, I do think it was not ambiguous enough. You know, if you want to lean into the idea of something, of there maybe being more - right? - like, to life, to the world. But then, I think you have to be clear about the tone. I didn't understand. Is this a thriller? Is this a family movie? Is this a happy story? Is this a sad story? Is this - (laughter) is this an apocalyptic story? I wasn't clear.


RASCOE: I wasn't clear by the end.

RIVERS: I think it was trying to be all of those things and...

RASCOE: Yeah. It's like - (laughter).

RIVERS: ...Wasn't totally successful at any of them.

RASCOE: That was - that's my issue.

WELDON: Yeah. The plot is supposed to have this central ambiguity, this central question. But what we get in this film is a tonal ambiguity that just ends up being puzzling. Here's what I liked about the film. I liked the pace. We don't waste a lot of time here. We're in and out in an hour and a half, just over an hour and a half. The tension does steadily increase. We get moments of, like, deflation where you give the audience a breather. I like that. My favorite thing about the film, frankly, is, I like the fact that these four strangers are strangers to one another. And they are deeply ambivalent about not only what their purpose is, but they're ambivalent about each other...


WELDON: ...(Laughter) And what they're bringing to the table here. And what relatively little humor there is in this pretty grim film comes from that tension. I like that. I did think it was an interesting choice to have it take place entirely in daylight, in bright daylight. I mean, if you're a horror movie, that is tying one hand behind your back, right? I respected that choice. I do agree with you, Ayesha. The novel does go harder. And not coincidentally, I think the ending works better in the novel. That's all I can really say. And, look; this is only the second movie Shyamalan has ever made that has an R rating. The first one was 15 years ago, "The Happening" in 2008. This, I think, is very intentionally humorless or nearly humorless.


WELDON: And I got to say, in the year 2023, you go into a horror movie with an R rating, I was expecting something a lot more intense and violent, frankly, than what we got here. What was that R rating there for?


RASCOE: Yeah. I mean, a lot of the violence in the movie happens - pretty much almost all of it happens off screen, a lot of it. I think we can say that. Like...



RASCOE: It's not a violent, gory movie, when it could have been. And it was not.

RIVERS: And the bloodlessness of it made me think that what we're seeing, we shouldn't trust, maybe. It led me to the thinking that maybe he will pull the rug out from under us, which is a thing that he's done in the past, but not quite. This had a kind of clear direction and was going to get there no matter what, you know? So there's a momentum to it, but also a lack of mystery to it as well when it comes to that.

WELDON: Yeah. Both the book and the film make the central couple gay. And they do - that is a very deliberate choice. It's a gambit, right? Like, this whole thing is about the ambiguity - are they what they seem, do they actually believe what they're telling us? - to give, like, more uncertainty to the strangers' motivations, you know? Are they targeting a gay couple out of some kind of perverse religious fanaticism or your basic, garden-variety North American homophobic bigotry? So that was an extra layer in the film that making the gay couple adds. How'd that land on you?

RIVERS: I thought the movie tried to establish how these two characters would kind of react to the situation in, like, different ways. You have one character who - he has had a kind of trauma in the past and has now become someone who's been put on the defensive through life. And then you have another character who's kind of maybe seen more as kind of soft and maybe more cautious and maybe more of a pushover, maybe. And I liked that the movie tried to establish the characters in that way. If you think about this movie in relation to COVID, it becomes kind of interesting.

I think his last movie, "Old," also felt like a very COVID-appropriate movie. You have this story about, you know, kind of getting old before you know it, you know, time just flashing before your eyes in that way. And then, this movie, where this couple, this family, goes on vacation, they're not only kind of going on vacation, they're kind of getting away from the world, you know? There's kind of a flashback where you see one of the characters gets assaulted. And you get the sense that they are trying to escape from the world for just a minute.

And there's a poignancy to this couple, this kind of family, trying to escape from the world and, actually, poignancy to kind of realizing that, you know, you can't escape from the world. The world's going to come for you. And I kind of wanted the movie to dive into that more. Like, that felt all kind of, like, sketched, but not fully realized, if that makes sense, you know? Like, I thought it had the necessary ingredients to make the ending more powerful through who these people were and why they were where they were. But it didn't fully deliver there.

WELDON: Yeah. Marc, I mean, you nailed exactly my expectations. And ultimately, I think, why the film didn't quite land on me. Look; I am a gay man who lives in a cabin in the woods in a rural community that is not exactly P-Town or Fire Island, OK? So I was expecting this film to go all-in on my very real anxieties, but it didn't particularly. And I think that has to do with how broadly this gay couple is drawn. They're pretty idealized. You know, we're told at one point that their love is pure. Whatever.


WELDON: They're idealized in a way that any marginalized group gets idealized in fiction. First, we are the villains. Then next phase is, we're the innocent victims. Then we're the allies and sidekicks. And then finally, maybe, down the road, we get to tell our own damn stories. They are pitched here as the innocent victims. We've done nothing wrong. Our love is pure. There wasn't enough gnarliness. There wasn't enough specificity to this family, to the contours of the relationship. And I was thinking about that because there is a 2019 film, Canadian horror film, called "Spiral." Basically, exactly the same setup - gay couple with a young daughter in a remote location gets beset by others, I'll just say. But the thing is, that couple was drawn so that, from the jump, we could see the dynamics of this relationship, how easily somebody could come in and find the chinks in their armor, the power differential, their little resentments of each other and could exploit them, you know, because they didn't have this perfect golden love. They were real. They were afforded the opportunity to be flawed and rounded and real.


WELDON: And I can point you to the scenes in this movie where the script is attempting to establish that kind of nuance. But, ultimately, just didn't buy it. And that's why I really didn't buy the ending. That's where all the marbles are (laughter).

RASCOE: And, you know, I mean, in the book, they had Eric as more religious.


RASCOE: They didn't get into that at all, really, in this one.

RIVERS: Eric is Jonathan Groff's character.


RASCOE: Eric is Jonathan Groff. Like, in the book, he was more religious. He was like - he was Catholic. He was still practicing. And, like, that was a dynamic there that they don't bring out in this movie, which maybe could have added some deeper layers to this - like, the religiosity and the idea that you might believe in things versus, you know, someone else who's more grounded.

RIVERS: You know, Shyamalan is interested in faith, in matters of belief, in the place that it takes us and what it drives us to do. But I'm not sure he's interested in faith in, like, a grown-up way. Like, he's almost interested in, like, faith, like do you believe I can pull off this magic trick kind of thing.

WELDON: Right.

RIVERS: And it doesn't really feel grounded in, like, a complex reckoning with faith. But a lot of this movie, it could be shot like a silent film. There's so much where I'm watching it, and I'm just like, I know exactly what he's trying. I don't know - he's leading our eye emotionally. He's telling us what's happening within the scene. Like, there's so much anonymous filming - I just watched "Shotgun Wedding," the J.Lo movie. Love J.Lo.


RIVERS: But that movie felt very anonymously directed.


RIVERS: Like, anybody could have just, you know, put that through an algorithm, and that comes out. And with Shyamalan, you just know that he is behind that camera. That's just so refreshing. But - so he co-wrote this movie. He's been written and directed a lot of his other movies. I'm wondering if it's time for him to back totally away from the written page and maybe take someone else's work and...

RASCOE: And direct it.

RIVERS: Right. I think that could maybe unleash or maybe restrain him in a way that could be conducive to a more successful movie.

WELDON: I really like what you're saying, Marc, about his approach to faith and how it's not gritty. It's not about faith where the rubber meets the road, which the book, again, is much more about.

RASCOE: It's not like Mike Flanagan type...


WELDON: Yes. Exactly.

RASCOE: ...Of explorations of faith. Yes.

RIVERS: It's like you see all the half-empty glasses of water. Like, that can come in handy in the end.


WELDON: Yep. This is - as you both have mentioned, this is a real departure for Dave Bautista. And in interviews lately, he has been going all in saying he wants...

RIVERS: Oh, yeah.

WELDON: ...Bigger challenges. He does want to play alternate versions of Drax forever. This gives him a lot more to chew on. You all were big fans, yeah?

RASCOE: Yes, absolutely. I mean, I do get that Dave Bautista, when he shows up and he's like, I'm a second-grade teacher...

WELDON: (Laughter).

RASCOE: ...He's a great actor, but at the same time, you're like, really?



RASCOE: Like, were you, like, throwing them all around, all the second-graders? They are rough. These second-graders are rough.


RASCOE: But no. But he is a great actor, I think, and I think he's establishing that, right? Like, from, you know, "Glass Onion" to this - like, he brought depth to this. You do wonder, who is this man?


RASCOE: Is he someone we can trust? Is he sincere? Is he a big teddy bear? Or is he, like, some, like, sadistic killer, right?


RASCOE: You know, and you think, because of his size, it does add this fear, right? 'Cause you know, in your mind, if he wanted to go off and - you know what I'm saying? Like, if he wanted to (laughter), he could take these people out by himself. That's the thought.


RASCOE: He don't need no weapons.

WELDON: Even without any makeup, any CGI, this dude is a human special effect.

RIVERS: Oh, yeah. Yeah, yeah. Right (laughter).

RASCOE: Yeah. And so that adds to the fear because it's like, who is this guy?


RASCOE: But I thought he brought a lot of richness to it. His connection with the little girl - in his own way, he was being kind. But it felt menacing, right?


RASCOE: So I thought it was very effective.

RIVERS: Yeah. I mean, obviously, there's such a physicality and hulking presence to him. But it's, like, being - it's contrast with this, like, almost, like, childlike innocence. I mean, these - he's so polite. You know, there are lines, like there are in any Shyamalan movie, where you - where it could be a clunker for most actors. But he delivers with such a quiet conviction. And, you know, there are some actors where you can kind of sense that they are not really willing to go where the director wants them to, like, almost like they're reading the script for the first time, and they're just like, I don't know how to say this. Bautista, he goes there. I think he's very convincing throughout. And I think whatever ambiguity there is in the movie, I think it mostly is contained in his performance.

WELDON: Yeah. I will say, for me, the MVP is Ben Aldridge, who plays the non-Groff half of the gay couple.

RASCOE: Oh, yeah. I was Team Andrew (laughter).

WELDON: Yeah. I mean, this guy is given the most to do. His is arguably the biggest swing in the movie. And yet he gets third or fourth billing. I didn't recognize this guy from "Fleabag" and other places, but I thought he was great.

RIVERS: I totally forgot that he was in "Fleabag."

WELDON: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

RIVERS: I think everybody was good in this movie.

WELDON: No, it's true.

RIVERS: I mean, I think this is some of the best acting, emotional acting, that I've seen in a Shyamalan movie in quite some time. I think they're really carrying it when the writing is not.

WELDON: Yep. Absolutely. Well, tell us what you think about "Knock At The Cabin." Find us at Facebook at facebook.com/pchh. Up next, what is making us happy this week?

OK. Now it is time for our favorite segment of this week and every week, what is making us happy this week? Marc Rivers, start us off. What is making you happy this week?

RIVERS: So I would say what's making me happy is this new HBO series called "The Last Of Us." Now, I don't play video games anymore, but, you know, back in the day, I was a heavy video game person. But it was one of the last games I did play. And I remember just being really moved by the story. I think it's one of the great stories in a video game. And, you know, there's this idea that video game adaptations are awful. It can't be done well. It's on its third episode now. It's created by the creator of "Chernobyl," the (inaudible) series, and also co-created by the creator of the game themselves. And I think they've just made a really strong and moving series so far. It's a post-apocalyptic story. This fungus, which is based in reality - it usually infects ants and things - it mutates and infects humans, and it devastates the world. And only a few survivors are remaining.

And I think a lot of apocalyptic or dystopian dramas kind of revel in the societal decay and revel in the brutality that an apocalypse would bring. And I think this show is going another route. You know, there isn't a lot of violence to it. I think it is focusing on morally, what are we left with when the world ends? And there's - and this latest episode had this really wonderful love story between these two men. It's one of the happiest episodes of dystopia I've ever seen. And it's the biggest departure from the game so far and I think a really successful departure. And I think so far, the show is just becoming about the things that we choose to hold onto and the lives we choose to make for ourselves, even when there isn't much left. So I've been really enjoying it so far.

WELDON: Yeah. That is "The Last Of Us" on HBO. And we will be covering that show on this show in the weeks ahead.

RIVERS: Deserved.

WELDON: And I have thoughts on thoughts on thoughts on Episode 3, but we will cover that when we get there. Ayesha Rascoe, what is making you happy this week?

RASCOE: In a totally different direction. I always watch cartoons. That's kind of like one of my things. What it made me think, like, what are those cartoons that an adult can watch that you enjoy and that do really kind of smart things that kind of punch above their weight? And so one of these shows that I think a lot of people missed is "The Looney Tunes Show." It ran on Cartoon Network for a couple of years. But I think the problem with this show is that it couldn't really find its audience because it ran on Cartoon Network, like, for kids.

But when you look at it, it's set like a sitcom with Bugs and Daffy as roommates. And then all the other characters are like their neighbors or their friends. And it's really almost like a "Seinfeld." A lot of the jokes are just jokes an adult would enjoy. And I always loved this show. I watched it when it was coming on. I watched all the new episodes. And I just went back to it because it just does so much that you would not expect with a kid's show. And it's not rated R, right? Like, I feel like adult cartoons lean into the raunchiness.


RASCOE: But it's like you don't have to be raunchy to be funny. And, like, I don't mind raunchiness, but raunchiness for the sake of raunchiness doesn't work for me.

WELDON: Yeah, absolutely.

RASCOE: Kristen Wiig played Lola Bunny. Like, it was just really funny. Like, I feel like it's shows - like, you can appeal to adults. And you don't even have to really be that nasty. So you can just like, be funny (laugher) so...

RIVERS: What a concept.

RASCOE: So I really enjoy the show. I feel like it has not gotten enough love. I watch it on Boomerang, the app. I'm sure you can find other places. I really enjoy "The Looney Tunes Show." I feel like it's a hidden gem. Watch it and laugh and enjoy it. And you can be an adult and like it.

WELDON: That is a great rec. That's "The Looney Tunes Show" on Boomerang and other places no doubt.


WELDON: My pick is also a cartoon. It's an animated pick. As we tape this, many, but not all of the Oscar-nominated shorts are online. The animated shorts, as they always are, are a very mixed bag. My personal favorite is Ice Merchants by Joao Gonzalez. This is an entirely wordless animated short about a man and his son who live on a house literally on the side of a cliff far above a town. They do business with the town in a strange way. It is beautiful. It is - if you have a fear of heights, it is - it can be troubling. But it is so effortlessly, exquisitely gorgeous and, you know, warm in a strange way and sneaks up on you. And, you know, the ending might not land on you. The ending landed on me. I was surprised that it did.

That is "Ice Merchants," which you can find on YouTube right now or also on The New Yorker's screener site. Seek it out - "Ice Merchants" by Joao Gonzalez. And that is what is making me happy this week. And if you want links for what we just recommended, plus some more recommendations, sign up for our newsletter at npr.org/popculturenewsletter. That brings us to the end of our show. Ayesha Rascoe, Marc Rivers, thanks to both of you for being here.

RIVERS: Thanks so much.

RASCOE: Thank you so much. Always happy to be here. And I will, you know, be the Shyamalan correspondent from here on out. I'm fine with that.


WELDON: I want you to be an everything correspondent...

RASCOE: Yes (laughter).

WELDON: ...But we'll steer some Shyamalan your way as well. This episode was produced by Mike Katzif and Candace Lim and edited by Jessica Reedy. And Hello Come in provides our theme music. Thanks for listening to POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR. I'm Glen Weldon. And we'll see you all next week, when we will be recapping this year's Grammy Awards.

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