M. Night Shyamalan: There’s ‘So Much More’ Than Horror to My Movies

“The characters have to make a decision, an extraordinary decision without absolutely knowing,” Shyamalan says of the game the central family is being forced to play. “It’s a jury movie, to some extent. You’re giving a verdict of some kind. It’s the ticking clock that decides it.” Because of the obvious and profound love between the couple and their daughter, the choice is that much harder to reason with and their suffering that much harder to stomach. As Shyamalan insists, “The most salient thing about the movie ultimately [is] the love story.”

This is a recurring theme with Shyamalan, the relationships between the characters are always the heart of the story. In The Sixth Sense, it’s Dr. Crowe (Bruce Willis), who is longing for his wife, and Lynn (Toni Collette) trying to connect with her son Cole (Haley Joel Osment). In Signs, it’s Rev. Hess (Mel Gibson) trying to find meaning in the loss of his wife and to do his best to support his grieving family. In Knock at the Cabin, it’s Andrew (Ben Aldridge) and Eric (Jonathan Groff) trying desperately to protect each other, their adopted daughter Wen (Kristen Cui), and the life they have managed to build together, against the odds. 

Intriguingly, Shyamalan reveals that he’s asked his own family about the choice that’s presented to the characters in the film. And he admits, “Wherever you are in your thought pattern about your family members versus humanity, it vacillates. There were times it was absolutely no, and then eventually there was a  moment where it was absolutely yes.”

With Andrew, Eric, and Wen, there is the sense that they are standing firm altogether or not all, but doubt has a funny way of creeping in, especially when Leonard (Dave Bautista), a mountain of a man and the leader of the group of strangers, is seemingly so gentle and so reasonable.

“It just seemed impossible, what was written,” Shyamalan says in regards to casting Leonard. “[He] has to be a giant, who’s fragile and is the complicated center of the piece. Honestly, I think there’s only one person on the planet that could have played the part, and lucky for me, he said yes.” Bautista is undoubtedly an excellent bit of casting, and he makes an easy job of playing a man who seems intimidating but exudes patience and kindness. Says Shyalmalan, “That’s who [Bautista] is. Such a gentle soul.” 

Horror definitely exists in Knock at the Cabin. The choices and consequences that come with the story are horrific; the increasingly tense situation is horrific; and the fact that there is a child witnessing it all is horrific. But the film is always firmly grounded in very human feelings and relationships. Everyone is trying to do the right thing, but it is unclear what the right thing is and time isn’t on their side. In that way, Knock at the Cabin fits the criteria of what Shyamalan hopes to achieve in all his films, whether they’re viewed as horror or not.

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