On the surface, it’s a family invasion story about a mysterious quartet with terrible-looking weapons trying to find their way in an isolated chalet inhabited by a visiting guest. family. Upon closer inspection, these are indeed violent biblical apocalyptic scenarios trying to puncture vulnerable minds with strangers claiming that the end of the world is near unless the the aggressor must die horribly. But with three characters in jeopardy being a gay couple and their adopted daughter, the film becomes something else, the horrors of reality forcing
to find its way to the fragile idiom of progressivism.
It’s a strange movie, sometimes not very good (Peter Bradshaw of the Guardian calls it “incredibly ridiculous”), but strangely engaging for reasons that may not always be. He also realizes, exists in a political space that it feels a bit accidental and mostly confusing.
The dizzying rise in visibility of gay characters at the cinema (from the constant blinking and you’ll miss it in recent blockbusters like Thor: Love and Thunder) and Jurassic World: Dominion takes center stage hard to miss in and Spoiler Alert), as you might expect, still has caveats and limitations. In this genre, gay characters gradually begin to appear on the sidelines in films like Truth or Dare, Freaky, or 2022’s Scream, but the closer they get to the limelight, the more likely they are to be marginalized. turned into a streamer, as shown in last year’s Scary Street trilogy, The Midnight Kiss, or Last year’s Them/Them. The fear of the
box office, the fear of alienating straight people, overwhelms everything.
Then there’s something quietly epic about Shyamalan, a proud advertiser who turned his gaze to Paul Tremblay’s 2018 novel La Cabane du bout du monde, an evil unequal but strange little dream centered on a gay couple and their adopted daughter. In the story, four strangers interrupt their distant vacation with a collection of bony weapons, declaring that the world will end unless they decide to kill one of them.The couple assume, as many queer people would, that the invasion is a homophobic attack, that these zealots have crafted an elaborate scheme in order to punish them for their sexuality. It makes for uneasily compelling tension, playing on relatable
fears of religion, Republicanism and rural America, with acts of violence against LGBTQ+ people in the US surging in the last year.
But the imposers insist that this is not the case, an unusually polite plea for peace offered up for people tied to chairs, and we soon discover that these biblical plagues are real and the only way to stop them is to make a terrible decision.
Regardless of intention – and I genuinely don’t believe that the film is coming from a place of bigotry – there’s something almost comical about the first ever glossy, wide-releasing studio thriller to centre gay characters hinged on the idea that if they don’t rip apart their family, God will punish us all. We see the waves rising and skies falling via news reports, each time they refuse to do the unimaginable, and the contrast between two privileged gay men choosing their own safety and happiness over the fate of the world becomes increasingly absurd, as if we have no choice but to root for their destruction.Besides being warned of a “lonely life” ahead or the sexual health dangers of , a tiresome false concern raised by homophobics is that of Same-sex relationships will eventually lead to the apocalypse, with biological differences causing population decline. (as if there would be enough homosexuals for this to be an issue). In the film, the main invader, played by the wonderful Dave Bautista, explains that without sacrifice, after everyone turns to dust, the family will be left alone, wandering the empty plains , was left with selfishness in his life choices.
It’s led to some referring to it as a “weirdly conservative parable” and a Christian review respecting the film’s decision to show “what can happen when tried and true family units are forsaken for untested alternative arrangements”. A tweet over the weekend describes a showing at which a woman “cheered when bad things happened to the gay characters and loudly sang hymns through the credits”.
The film is a more overtly religious tale than the book (a scene detailing how the four strangers are in fact the four horsemen of the apocalypse is one of many clunky new additions) and it also makes the gay family more obviously responsible for the thousands of lives that are lost while they make their choice. The book is in some ways grimmer – the daughter gets killed accidentally – but the film is more conclusive: the destruction stops when the gay family is no more (one dad is forced to shoot the other at the end).
Coincidentally, the film arrived just days after an internet-breaking episode of HBO’s The Last of Us that broke off from the show’s main narrative to tell of a gay couple also faced with the end of the world (their story ends with a double suicide). But while that aimed for the heartstrings, Shyamalan is focused on something else – exactly what I’m not quite sure and perhaps neither is he. His gay characters are too thinly developed and far too muted to be seen as people we should care that much about let alone buy as a couple (notably despite the R rating, we don’t even get a kiss from the pair). The most prominent piece of information from their backstory is that one of them was violently queerbashed in a bar years earlier which led to the purchase of a gun, a red meat red flag that seems to smugly suggest that given a little push, even those pearl-clutching gay liberals will learn to appreciate a rightwing way of life. The redneck queerbasher, played by Rupert Grint of all people, ends up being one of the invaders, a development that is as fruitless in the film as it was in the book.
What all of this provocation amounts to is perhaps subjective. For a hardline “keep them away from our kids” Bible-basher, it could be a necessary cautionary tale about the cost of “sin”. For a queer person it could be an effectively rattling horror about the depressing price of assimilation. For me, it was more of a contextually intriguing curio than anything else. As someone who has craved more gay characters in genre films, it’s a thrill to see them front and centre, trying to survive in a situation of high-stakes jeopardy rather than dying of Aids or providing advice to a straight women (I did get a cathartically gleeful kick from seeing one of the dads efficiently beat up one of the intruders). In one weekend, it’s made more than both Bros and Spoiler Alert did in their entire runs last year, the first film to knock Avatar 2 from the top spot since it was released two months prior. This could be seen as either good (millions happy to see a gay-led thriller) or bad (millions happy to see a gay-led thriller where the gays are tortured).
Would it be nice to see queer characters fronting a sexy courtroom thriller or a glossy slasher not quite so punishingly related to sexuality? Sure, but for now, Knock at the Cabin is a major step, it just might take us a while to figure out exactly what direction that’s in.