By Lynn Venhaus
A taut and tense thriller that taps into our anxieties and fears during the past three years of the pandemic, “Knock at the Cabin” keeps one off-guard and on the edge.

While vacationing in a remote area, a girl, Wen (Kristen Cui) and her parents (Jonathan Groff, Ben Aldridge) are taken hostage by armed strangers who demand that the family make a choice to avert the apocalypse.

Its alarming scenario – sacrifice to avert the world’s end – grows tedious as the minutes tick by (1 hour, 40-minute runtime), but the viewer isn’t sure if we’re being played or is it convincing enough to think about doing the unthinkable. Therefore, it’s fraught with danger until the conclusion.

Supernatural specialist M. Night Shyamalan remains streaky as a director, but this is one of his more grounded works, on par with “The Visit” (2015) and “Split” (2016), if not his masterpieces “The Sixth Sense” and “Unbreakable.”

Based on the book, “The Cabin at the End of the World” by Paul Tremblay, co-screenwriters Shyamalan, Steve Desmond and Michael Sherman keep the focus tightly controlled. The cabin becomes a claustrophobic setting instead of its relaxing get-away-from-the-city intentions.

Shyamalan, who is a master at simmering tensions, has a strong cast to work with here.

Playing against type, Dave Bautista is gentle-giant Leonard, who says he is a school teacher but is a hulking, menacing presence leading a team of nervous enforcers who mean what they say.

These are not idle threats they speak, but what they say is so preposterous, it’s hard to believe that humanity rests on one family’s decision. However, they follow through with the gruesome details – and thankfully, we are spared most of the horrific visuals.

The four have intruded on a same-sex couple’s vacation with their adopted daughter. Daddy Eric (Groff) and Daddy Andrew (Aldridge) are used to being targeted, but they are fierce warriors regarding their family. They are not going to give up easily, no matter how many pleas from Leonard’s team.

Rupert Grint is Redmond, a hothead whose temper hurts their mission more than helps. Abby Quinn is Adriene, a nurturing type, and Nikki Amuka-Bird is Sabrina, a nurse, trying to be compassionate but firm.

Their words fall on deaf ears, as news reports visualize the grim reality of the outside world. Who do we believe?

Showing flashbacks of their relationship and their setbacks, Andrew and Eric are given a backstory that ties a few things together. The pair dote on their charming daughter, which makes the choices even more gut-wrenching.

The authentic performances, especially by Groff, best known as a Tony nominee in musical theater (“Spring Awakening,” “Hamilton”), but who also starred in David Fincher’s TV series “Mindhunter,” and Aldridge, a veterans of several television shows, help stick the landing.

Shayamalan uses his beloved Philadelphia again, and appears briefly in an air fryer infomercial, as he likes to pop into his own films.

It’s a satisfactory thriller for our times, and ramped up those uneasy feelings we’ve all had since the lockdown three years ago.

“Knock at the Cabin” is a 2023 horror, mystery thriller directed by M. Night Shyamalan and stars Dave Bautista, Jonathan Groff, Ben Aldridge and Kristen Cui. It is rated R for violence and language, and runs 1 hour, 40 minutes. It opened in theaters on Feb. 3. Lynn’s Grade: B.

Knock at the Cabin Trailer; Credit: Universal Pictures/YouTube;
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