[REVIEW] ‘Knock at the Cabin’ or How to Not Make a Kind of Faith-Based Thriller

The relationship much of film twitter has with director M Night Shyamalan I find to be rather baffling. It’s like they bonded with him at a young age and defend him like he’s the only director taking swings and making original work. I’ve always found him to be quite self-indulgent as a filmmaker and often he stands in the way of me enjoying a lot of his projects. Now he has given us Knock at the Cabin, and once again, I left the theater with mixed feelings.

It’s a little hard to talk about Knock at the Cabin without spoilers, but I will do my best. The film starts out with a ‘what if’ scenario and then tries to build a whole apocalyptic disaster movie into it. Basically, a group of religious radicals takes a gay couple and their daughter hostage and forces them to answer the question- what if the world is going to end if one of you don’t make a sacrifice of each other? The death in question will save the lives of hundreds of thousands. What do you do?

The mercenaries are played by Dave Bautista, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Abby Quinn and Rupert Grint. They are all good as well as Jonathan Groff, Ben Aldridge and Kristen Cui as the family . The whole cast brings the humanity and tension you need for such an intimate human-focused thriller. The movie is also shot well using close-ups effectively to get into the soul of the characters.

There are a lot of movies I feel would be better as shorts or 45 minute featurettes rather than feature films, and this is one of them. There’s an idea here but after a while I began to get frustrated. The longer Shyamalan goes, the more it becomes a religious allegory- literally having people become apocalyptic Biblical characters (not just metaphorically). Eventually I wanted to ask Shyamalan- what’s the point? What am I supposed to take from watching these people get tortured?

I feel like you don’t go that Biblical without having something to say but it’s beyond me what that is? Is it about the value of human life? If so than why are we asked to sacrifice somebody? Someone told me they thought it was a repeat of the Abraham and Isaac story but in that story Isaac is saved so Abraham’s loyalty to God is tested without him actually being asked to make the sacrifice.

Is it a Messianic allegory? God did sacrifice His son to save all of mankind but the ending doesn’t seem to own that interpretation (the ending from the book sounds much better.) And if that’s the interpretation what are we supposed to do with that? What does that teach us? With the couple being a gay couple is that a repudiation against Christianity (the couple is shown in the past being persecuted by their community and even family)? I think that’s supposed to make their decision to sacrifice harder because it’s for people that don’t accept them but again what are we supposed to take from all that? I have no idea.

I suppose some people will see this as a simple home invasion thriller, but I felt it was trying to say a lot more in a very muddled way. So despite being well-shot and acted I can’t recommend Knock at the Cabin. It left me frustrated more than anything else.

4 out of 10

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Blind Spot 10: Unbreakable (Spoiler)

unbreakableFor this month’s blind spot review I decided to check a film by my least favorite director, M Night Shyamalan off the list, Unbreakable. This is the film that everyone said was ‘one of the good Shyamalan films’. I had my doubts as I don’t like Signs which most seem to love but I figured it was worth a shot. Now that I’ve seen it I think it is an okay dopey thriller but not much more than that.

This post will have spoilers as it is impossible to talk about the pros and cons of this movie without talking about key plot points and another Shyamalanian twist!

unbreakable2Unbreakable stars Samuel L Jackson as Elijah Glass a man with a debilitating bone disease. His bones are very fragile and will shatter easily. He just might be breakable….Then we have Bruce Willis as David Dunn, a security guard who starts to wonder about his own strengths after he is the only survivor of a train crash. He just might be unbreakable…(subtlety is not Shyamalan’s strength).

So, the train crashes at the beginning of the film and it seems completely unlikely that all 131 passengers would die on this train. This is not a plane where that would make more sense. I’ve never heard of a train crash ever killing all the passengers. Nevertheless, you have to go with that (hey at least it’s not killer grass like in a later Shyamalan film…)

Elijah invites David to meet with him and he suggests that David is a superhero like we see in the comic books. David dismisses the idea but then realizes he has never been sick his entire life (something it seems like you would realize before this) and that he can lift 350 lbs on a bench press (something I would think you’d realize as a former athlete).

unbreakable3David also learns he has one weakness which is water (the aliens in Signs and now this. What is it with Shyamalan and water?) and begins to hone his super skills, which includes the power of learning what crimes people have committed by touching them. I’m not sure this skill makes much sense or would be very helpful when we all break speeding limits and other unlawful behavior. How does the skill decide what is a ‘crime’ and what isn’t? It could be self defense after all or an accident or any number of murky crimes?

Nevertheless, in one scene he goes to a train terminal where an unusual number of criminals seem to be gathering, but he follows a janitor who has murdered parents and then gone back to work for some strange reason with the children still handcuffed to the bathroom wall. Doesn’t that seem strange that he would go back to work when friends, family, anyone could come and free the girls, see the murder? It makes no sense that such a man would leave the girls like that to go to work and even less to return back to the scene of the crime. The only reason is for the script to provide him with a confrontation with David.

This fight is David’s first heroic act and soon after we get the big reveal (it’s a Shyamalan movie after all. Of course there is a big twist!). It turns out, Elijah is the one who caused the train wreck in the first place, so he could find David. This really makes no sense. In the world of comic books there are handfuls of supers for millions of normal people. The likelihood that a super would be on that train at that moment makes no sense. If there was some proof that Elijah had been following David for years but needed a final conclusive evidence than that might make sense but like I said a train crash would rarely have such casualties or produce such definitive proof.

The point of the story is that now Elijah has his purpose as the super villain against David’s superhero. Ok. I can buy that but it is the road to getting there that doesn’t really work.

That said, if you turn off your brain it’s a well made decent movie. The problem is Shyamalan thinks he is being so clever, so it’s a little hard to accept as a dopey fun thriller. His camera work is very distracting with odd angles and movement for no discernible reason. We also get the M Night cameo that made me roll my eyes.

The acting is pretty good from both Willis, Jackson and Robin Wright as David’s wife. It is also better paced than many other Shyamalan films.  I was never really bored and it’s a pretty creative twist on the comic book genre. Unfortunately I appreciate it more for the potential than the end result.

Overall Grade- C+ Shyamalan Grade- A

The Visit Review

the visitYesterday was a very sad day for me at the movies.  I was going to see the Iron Giant special release and went to the Draper theater instead of The District and by the time I noticed it  I was too late to make the film. 🙁

I had my popcorn and icee in tow and not wanting to just leave I decided to go see The Visit. My brother really liked it as well as some friends and I have been trying to expand my movie comfort zone a little bit with a few more scary movies.  So I guess take this review with a grain of salt because it after all wasn’t Iron Giant…wa, wa, wa.

So what did I think of The Visit?

Well, I thought it was a thoroughly generic predictable horror movie.  I am not the most versed in the genre but I could predict everything that was going to happen.  And of course because it is M Night Shyamalan we get a big twisteroo that was  so obvious even for him.  So no I wasn’t really a fan.

There are some good things about it.  First, the performances are all fine.  Most of Shyamalan’s movies have fine performances.  The two kids are particularly good with Olivia DeJonge as Rebecca and Ed Oxenbound (from Alexander Terrible Day).

the visit4The Visit is also much tighter than the typical Shyamalan film.  There are no speeches and philosophizing and thank goodness he doesn’t cast himself in the movie (I’m talking to you Lady in the Water).   This may be Shyamalan’s tightest film with really no dead time where the story isn’t moving along.

But just because something is better than garbage doesn’t mean it is good.  I’d rather watch the transformers movies than watch most of Shyamalan’s films and that’s saying something.  I’d sit through Nut Job, Legends of Oz and Hero of Color City before watching The Last Airbender or After Earth again (those were the 3 worst animated films of 2014).

I feel like a lot of people are giving The Visit a pass because it isn’t as bad as The Village or The Happening.  I’d agree with them but if it was Johnny Movie Man making the film I think 90% of critics would be giving it a lower score as a generic predictable horror film.  I mean is it really as good as The Conjuring or something like that?

the visit3I don’t want to give any spoilers away but basically the film is about 2 kids that go for a visit to see their grandparents.  Their mother is estranged from them but they want to see the grandkids.  She sends them off without showing them a picture.  Don’t you think a mother who is estranged from her parents would want to show the kids a picture of the parents?  Especially if they are getting on a train and having to meet strangers?  I found that highly improbable.  And if things were so bad between mother and parents with no pictures or physical contact wouldn’t she have them watched out for by a friend of hers from high school or something like that?  It all seemed hard to believe.

But fine accept that the Grandparents seem lovable at first but then weird stuff starts happening and at first they discount it as old people stuff, but it keeps building to a point where they really should be asking more questions and seeking help.  We also find out where the Grandparents volunteer each week, which I won’t give  away because it gives away a lot.

the visit6The thing with most horror movies is that characters get signs to leave or get out of the house and then they make the wrong decision every time.  This movie is no different.  The ending is tense but the kids had so many opportunities to leave and they keep going back for another interview or another discussion that it defies credulity even for children.

the visit5The other bone I have to pick with this film is it is shot in found footage style which is annoying but also makes no sense to the story.  There is no way the Grandparent characters would allow the filming to take place or participate in it.  It doesn’t make sense with their characters or personality traits in every other way in the film.  The found footage also causes a lot of telling rather than showing and it just makes the whole movie seem so unbelievable. I understand they shoot films this way because it is cheap but it comes off looking just that and again it doesn’t work with the characters and story we are being told.  It would have been so much better if it  had been shot like a regular film.  I haven’t been a fan of Shyamalan’s films but he usually shoots them adequately.

So that’s why in the end the movie felt really stupid to me. The characters behaved in nonsensical or stupid ways and the story didn’t really make sense or was completely obvious so not very scary (and I get scared pretty easily).

the visit2Like I said, I really feel like people are giving this a pass because it isn’t as bad as Shyamalan’s other films but is it really good?  I guess if you like generic predictable horror movies than this is for you.  As for me I thought it was lame but then again I was expecting to see Iron Giant so take it for what it’s worth. Sigh…

If you want to be scared I think The Gift is much better.  It is still creeping me out when I think about it.  It’s way more realistic, surprising and scary with really good performances.

Overall Grade- C- for the good performances and tightness of story.

Michael Bay or Shyamalan?

I thought this was a really fun discussion over on the Schmoes Know Podcast (which is one of the best movie podcasts next to the Rotoscopers!). It’s a real Sophie’s Choice. Who is worse Michael Bay or M Night Shyamalan?

They are both insanely bad but if someone put a gun to my head and said ‘you have to watch their latest movie’ what would I pick?
Here are the arguments on both sides.

Michael Bay-
His movies are demeaning to women, they are long, insulting to minorities and full of mindless destruction and explosions. His dialogue is terrible and I really don’t think he has made a good movie ever (haven’t seen The Rock which I’m told is his one good movie). I have seen Pearl Harbor, Armageddon, and all 4 Transformers movies. KMN. Now that I think about it the first Transformers movie isn’t that bad.  It’s a fun big blockbuster movie (certainly a million times better than any of the sequels).

Pearl Harbor is especially insulting because it deals with real people, real heroes and reduces them to caricatures and a laughable soap opera romance with some of the worse dialogue I’ve ever heard.

(Language warning but it’s true)

The reason I might place him above Shyamalan is he does have a demographic that he services and that enjoy his movies. Whether I have respect for that demographic is one thing but I can’t imagine any demographic liking Lady in the Water, The Village, The Happening or Last Airbender.

M Night Shyamalan-
He made one good movie, and 2 movies that look good but are very silly. When I got home from my mission everyone was raving about Signs so I watched it and thought it was a very weak and even preachy movie. I did not get the hype. Lamest aliens ever…but it at least has style.

Post Signs they have been astonishingly bad. And I don’t know is it worse to make movies with talent and to try hard and produce junk or to half-bake it and produce mindless shluck? Shyamalan if he let someone else write and set his ego aside could make a good movie. I don’t know if I could say the same about Michael Bay.

But again at least Bay kind of knows his schtick and he makes it where Shyamalan doesn’t even seem to realize he is making crap. He thinks it’s all big and important and that us silly fools aren’t enlightened enough to understand it. You watch interviews of him trying to defend Lady in the Water or The Last Airbender and it is mind blowing. He acts like he is this wounded artist that people are unfairly attacking. I mean have you seen these movies? They are unwatchable films.

Lady in the Water is boring and so full of itself. It’s so awful and pretentious.

I mean The Happening is about the evil wind and the plants attacking people. I guess it could work if you went the B cheesy horror movie route (ala Sharknado) but this takes itself seriously and turns good actors into jokes. Mark Whalberg is so bad in The Happening (he’s apologized publicly for The Happening). Same with Paul Giamati in Lady in the Water (although that movie is not his fault it is bad). And with Last Airbender he took a show that people love and Westernized it, made it incredibly boring and it doesn’t even look good? The special effects are laughable. The fight sequences and the slow motion and the panning shots make me nuts.

In both Lady in the Water and Signs M Night casts himself as these prophet types who are the chosen one’s and again at least Michael Bay (I think) knows he’s making crap.

But he could make a good movie again and his movies aren’t demeaning to women or minorities like Bay’s are? (well not as demeaning at least and it isn’t real people).

I guess I would pick Shyamalan although I think he might be the worse director again because there is not any demographic for his movies. They are just junk. Avoid them both! And don’t get me started on After Earth. It’s right up there with Battlefield Earth in the terd heap.

When Johnny Depp thinks you’re strange M Night you need to take a look at yourself.

I guess it comes down to do you appreciate a pompous artist who tries but makes crap or someone that doesn’t try but makes crap that a lot of people for whatever reason like? One is full of his own genius and the other is lazy. I don’t know. Tough call. May I never be cursed with such a choice.