Ben Aldridge, Kristen Cui, Jonathan Groff and Dave Bautista in Knock at the Cabin.

Dave Bautista impresses with his acting chops in Knock at the Cabin, the latest from M. Night Shyamalan. It’s a solid effort from the wobbly M. Night, who can be so very frustrating with some of his directorial choices. This is slow and almost-steady M. Night rather than completely goofy, twisty M. Night.

That’s not to say some of his bad tendencies don’t creep in at times, but with solid source material in Paul Tremblay’s novel, The Cabin at the End of the World, and two co-screenwriters chipping in, much of the goofy Shyamalan is dialed down in favor of almost-grounded Shyamalan.

The result is one of his better recent efforts—a dark, thought-provoking thriller, and a good chance for some solid actors, including Bautista, to deliver a clinic in end-of-the-world cinema.

Shyamalan scores a winner with the casting of young Kristen Cui as Wen, the daughter of two dads, Eric (Jonathan Groff) and Andrew (Ben Aldridge). This is Cui’s feature debut, and she’s one of anchors that make the film come together.

Wen and her dads are vacationing at a cabin in the forest when a giant man named Leonard (Bautista) shows up. He seems kind enough as he greets Wen and helps her catch grasshoppers—but he and three other strange people are not there to jar insects. The end of the world is apparently near, and Wen and her dads are a key component regarding whether the planet is doomed.

Are Leonard and his companions a crazed religious cult, or are they truthtellers regarding the end times? As a mystery-thriller, the movie is more than efficient—and thankfully free of the usual “Shyamalan Twist.” The film plays out in a manner that is semi-convincing rather than manipulative and unfair.

There are times when the film drifts into traditional Shyamalan “Oh, gimmee a break!” territory (Wen’s TV tantrum is a bust), but never to the point of no return. By the time the film wrapped, it felt like I’d just seen a good, but not great, movie.

Knock at the Cabin shows that Shyamalan is still pretty far away from his masterpiece effort, the classic Signs—but at least he is distanced from crap like The Happening and The Last Airbender, which almost ruined his career.

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