Knock at the Cabin opens with a credits sequence of grotesque drawings, maps seemingly scrawled in a frenzy, and tense, eerie music that leaves the audience excited for the horrors to come. Unfortunately as soon as the rest of the film starts, any semblance of real tension ends.
The film centres around the same-sex couple of Eric (Jonathan Groff) and Andrew (Ben Aldridge), who have gone on a retreat in a cabin with their daughter Wen (Kristen Cui). Their idyllic family retreat is quickly interrupted by the arrival of four strangers, led by a man named Leonard, (Dave Bautista) who tells them they must choose to sacrifice one of their family members to save all of humanity. If not, the strangers, who promptly introduce themselves as Sabrina (Nikki Amuka-Bird), Adriane (Abby Quinn), and Redmond (Rupert Grint), will unleash plagues one by one, until all of humanity is judged.
It is worth noting that Bautista performs well. His initial interaction with Wen is uneasy in just the right way, his performance as Leonard throughout feels nuanced, and he manages to make plot exposition segments watchable. Lastly, the only organically tense moment of action in the entire film stems from Bautista in a bathroom.
The rest of this film is sadly not as compelling. Excluding flashback sequences that fail to add anything of real value to the film, and some brief scenes in the woodland, the drama unfolds in the titular cabin's main room. With an extremely small core cast bundled into this singular location, and a plot that is predictable by necessity (it wouldn't be a very long film if the family willingly chose to sacrifice one of their own right away) the film has to find a way to make the audience invested in its characters, and it doesn't.
As the strangers one by one ritualistically sacrificed themselves and the family 'struggle' to decide who to sacrifice to prevent the world ending, my intense indifference towards the film's antics and the deaths of its characters only grew. The screenplay does very little to meaningfully discuss the conflict between same sex marriage and religion that it loved to bring up sporadically - perhaps in case you'd fallen asleep and forgotten that Eric and Andrew were together.
Admittedly, an interesting effort is made to subvert the posturing of the four strangers as the four horsemen of the apocalypse. Leonard (Conquest) is a school teacher who cares much more about enjoyment than victory; Redmond (War) is regretful of his violent past, and takes a beating from Andrew without fighting back; Adriane (Pestilence) is a cook, and in fact provides food for the characters; and finally Sabrina (Death) is a nurse who not only tends to the family's injuries but refuses to kill.
This cleverness is undermined when the film takes the time to spell out its own obvious biblical imagery for the audience, intentionally incorrectly for that matter, so as to try and reclaim some semblance of the horsemen's humanity and the audience's due sympathy for them, although it tragically fails to do so. Even more egregious, as Eric and Andrew decide which of them is to be sacrificed in the film's climax, the mirrored extreme close-up shots of the two spin them out of the dark and the light. I don't think it could be more heavy-handed if it tried.
This is a film that loves to play with lighting, extreme close-up shots and Dutch angles amongst other techniques to try and signal to the audience how they should feel about the characters. Whether it's for the purpose of humanising a character or creating unease, the direction is too on the nose to work, instead feeling like some sort of emotional paint-by-numbers.
Ultimately, Knock at the Cabin is a film with a lot of style and not a lot of substance. I'd understand the appeal of a character-led drama that delves into the topic of same sex relationships versus religion. I understand the appeal of an enjoyably tense trolley problem horror, yet in trying to be both of these things, the film sadly fails to do either well. Long before the world was at risk of ending, I was hoping the film would.