Cabin built on narrative fault line
I tend to give director M. Night Shyamalan's movies a bit more narrative rope than others. Intent on surprising us, the director feels compelled to string along the viewer with an outlandish premise that often has us asking questions along the way, wondering about the odd situation we're witnessing. Anticipating the sort of twist ending he's become known for, our patience is usually rewarded; when it is not, it's due to the director not adhering to the logic he's established, hoping we're so caught up in the story, we won't notice. Such is the case with his latest, Knock at the Cabin, that begins with a solid enough premise but squanders it thanks to the illogical behavior of its main characters.
A small family consisting of two fathers, Eric (Jonathan Groff) and Andrew (Ben Aldridge), and their adopted daughter Wen, (Kristen Cui), are accosted by four strangers while vacationing at a remote cabin in the woods. Their leader, Leonard (Dave Bautista), tells the trio that he and the others have been haunted by apocalyptic visions and that they can only be stopped if either Eric, Andrew or Wen sacrifice themselves for the greater good.
A key flaw in the logic of the script crops up a half-hour in and goes unaddressed. No small detail, it provides an out for all involved, yet Shyamalan simply lets it lie there, unexplored. It bothered me throughout. I walked out of the theater wondering if I had missed something or if I was making too much out of a narrative blip that didn't seem to matter to others I spoke to. I suppose I should just turn over in my mind the theme of the piece, that it is often better to cling to faith and hope than give in to nihilism and despair. However, in the end there were other flaws in the story too big to ignore, Cabin having been built on a flimsy narrative foundation. In theaters.
Pool effectively seeps in and festers
Though not as fully realized as his haunting 2020 feature Possessor, writer/director Brandon Cronenberg's follow-up, Infinity Pool, is still worthy of note. The fictional island of La Tolqa is the setting and struggling author James Foster (Skarsgard) has come seeking inspiration, his sugar mama wife Em (Cleopatra Coleman) along for the ride, footing the bill. While there, he accidentally kills a vagrant while driving and is brought up on murder charges. While this may seem like a Banana Republic, they just happen to have a machine that, for a price, will make a clone that will take your place and receive the punishment for your crime. Execution being the sentence for Foster's act, he willingly agrees to this process.
This opens up a macabre can of worms as Foster encounters a small group of ex-pats who have undergone the same process and wallow in the hedonistic lifestyle it affords them. If you have the means to have a clone created to endure the consequences of your actions, is there any limit to the amoral acts you'll indulge in? The behavior we witness Foster and his new friends glory in knows no bounds, and while he initially resists going down this thorny road to hedonism, his lack of moral character comes to the fore and the only question is just how lost he'll become. As we know, everyone's bottom is different.
Unlike Possessor, which was surprising throughout, Cronenberg doesn't handle Pool as delicately, telegraphing some of its surprises, which dulls its overall impact. Still, there's no denying it got under my skin. A pleasant experience? Not so much. Thought provoking? Very much so, whether I want to think about it or not.