Director: M.Night Shyamalan | Screenplay: Steve Desmond, Michael Sherman, M. Night Shymalan | Cast: Dave Bautista (Leonard), Jonathan Groff (Eric), Rupert Grint (Redmond), Ben Aldridge (Andrew), Nikki Amuka-Bird (Sabrina), Abby Quinn (Adriane), ea | Time to play: 100 minutes | Year: 2023
After the success of The sixth Sense Writer-director M. Night Shyamalan made the plot twist his trademark. He concealed his talent for soft inter-character drama and special camerawork. Also, the reveals became weaker and weaker and the audience got distracted by focusing only on them. But what is more annoying: another twist or an ending that is not at all responsive as in call the booth?
Eric and Andrew are on vacation with their daughter Wen when four people show up. With obvious reluctance, they imprison them and present them with a dilemma: one of the family members must sacrifice himself and let the other two kill him or the world will end. At least, that’s what the foreign invaders claim.
This is a film adaptation of Paul Tremblay’s 2019 book The Cabin at the End of the World. Although, of course, there were already many people who believed in conspiracies and talked to each other with their delusions, the wappies are a child of this time. He is exactly the type of person who knocks on the door of the gay couple and their adopted son. Andrew is familiar with it, so he assumes these are just four confusing ones.
It’s hard to get a message from the movie. In any case, the plot deviates from the book, so if you’ve read it, there are still plenty of surprises. The four intruders indicate that they did not know who they would find in this house, so the fact that the blind couple is homosexual does not matter. “Why us? What makes us so special?” Andrew asks.
Is the movie about that? That partners who deviate from the norm are asked to sacrifice something to keep the peace? If they don’t, then are they selfish? Is that the message that certain couples are expected to commit if they insist on being together?
In a way, it would be nice to expose this petty intolerance, because there are still people who say that couples can be gay as long as they don’t show their intimacy in public. Or that interracial couples should not have children, because then the purity of ‘the race’ will be tarnished. Unfortunately, it remains anyone’s guess whether the writers of the book and screenplay incorporated that message into their exciting story.
Shyamalan’s iconic twist is omitted this time. They are not aliens conducting an experiment, the residents of the vacation home have not died prior to the start of the film. Yet you are left with the same questions as Andrew every time: is this real or did someone manipulate these people? Why is this happening and why this family per se? You will get an answer to the first question, but not to the second.
This creates a feeling of dissatisfaction afterwards. What was the reason for all this and what is the result? How are the characters? Ambiguity is not a pleasant emotion to walk out of a movie theater with. And it’s a movie law that a weak ending can ruin a movie.
Completely ruined? Neither that. The tension starts almost immediately and lasts the whole time. Dave Bautista’s character is certainly a schoolteacher, but a man with a tree tattoo couldn’t possibly be intimidating. The other three ‘prophets’ are less scary, but all carry unsettling homemade weapons. The acting, dialogue and camera work is all Shyamalan at his best.
The choice of a Universal logo from the eighties, a typeface from the same decade and the use of camera lenses from the nineties by Jarin Blaschke (which is not noticeable) are striking. I have no idea why, because the story takes place in the present day and it doesn’t feel like a typical movie from the past. Nor can it be located within topics. The movie is fine until about ten minutes before the end, and therefore not Shyamalan’s best, but by no means his worst.