After ghostly therapists, agriculturally inclined aliens, and murderous houseplants, it’s rather refreshing to come face-to-face with an M. Night Shyamalan production in which the most ridiculous thing is Airbnb’s luxurious in-house library. The film’s remote getaway (4.96 rating: Wi-Fi, free parking, and end-of-the-day cultists included) is a hideaway to die for. In fact, it’s the perfect place for Eric (Jonathan Groff), Andrew (Ben Aldridge) and Wen (Kristen Cui) to spend some family time surrounded by Mother Nature. It’s also, on the face of it, a grueling setting for some behind-the-scenes horror. But Shyamalan is never one to take things literally, and this scatological thriller, like its setting, has more at stake than a cursory glance at its roster would suggest.
Adapted from the touching 2018 novel by Paul Tremblay The cabin at the end of the world (with a screenplay by Steve Desmond and Michael Sherman, rewritten by Shyamalan), it’s a tighter and simpler story than most of the director’s original fantasies. Don’t even waste time. We have just a moment to catch our breath before the family’s treetop paradise rapidly transforms., an oppressive and sinister tune that descends after less than five minutes on screen. Cheerfully catching grasshoppers in the woods, Wen sees the hulking figure of Leonard (Dave Bautista), trudging towards her in a crisp, short-sleeved missionary shirt and looking like a Mormon Summerslam headliner. He is soon joined by his companions Sabrina (Nikki Amuka-Bird), Redmond (Rupert Grint) and Adriane (Abby Quinn), each wielding a medieval-looking torture device, who inform the family that they have a particular decision to make. . . .
Bautista perfectly undermines Leonard’s physical menace with an almost childlike sweetness that freezes in his understated restraint.
The remote location and home invasion setting may be as old as the hills, but that’s about it. call the booth You agree to play by the standard rules. It’s not the horror that trades shock and gore, but rather takes on a deceptively suave, almost sweet air as it exposes the boundless monstrosity of the family dilemma. The savage eruptions of violence, when they occur, are powerful but never macabre, relying on psychological wounds rather than sketches to make their point.
Paranoia, denial and twisted attempts at persuasion are the main tools of the film, the character and acting far more impactful than the 9mm pistol hidden out of reach in the trunk of Andrew’s car. Groff and Aldridge’s growing panic is palpable, fueling the suffocating tension, which builds almost inexorably over the agonizing 100 minutes. Bautista is most notable, however, gifted here with what appear to be more quips than all of his previous film roles combined. He perfectly undermines Leonard’s physical menace with an almost childlike gentleness that sends shivers down your spine in his understated restraint: all courtesy and consideration, even when it comes to skulls.
Fans of the books might be disappointed to see that some edges of the source material have been smoothed (the title change is a deliberate attempt to distance themselves from this adaptation), and not all of Shyamalan’s choices are as expected (a cameo by M One night involving a particularly ill-judged fryer), but it’s a brutally stressful and effective thriller that doesn’t need a third act to take your breath away.
Rose James is a Gossipify movie and series reviewer known for her in-depth analysis and unique perspective on the latest releases. With a background in film studies, she provides engaging and informative reviews, and keeps readers up to date with industry trends and emerging talents.