Why M. Night Shyamalan Used 'Barely Functional' Old Equipment To Film Parts Of Knock At The Cabin

M. Night Shyamalan has successfully restored his reputation as a provocative filmmaker thanks to high-concept genre films that are just unique enough to keep audiences guessing. If J.J. Abrams is who you think about in regards to the secretive plot device of the mystery box, Shymalan is certainly most remembered for his outlandish twist endings. "The Sixth Sense" used that structure brilliantly, while the careful choreography in "Signs" felt a little forced, leaving the ending of "The Village" to unveil the director's most daring (and highly improbable) bait-and-switch ending up to that point. Then things went off the rails for M. Night until he dove headfirst into horror, bouncing back with cleverly staged low-budget standouts such as "The Visit" and 2021's "Old," a chilling story about a magical beach where time speeds up. 

It makes perfect sense for Shyamalan to finally tackle the classic cabin in the woods trope, and it's a wonder that it has taken this long for his unique breed of storytelling to play with such a familiar setup. Smartly, the writer/director is basing his new film, "Knock at the Cabin," on Paul Tremblay's Bram Stoker Award-winning novel "The Cabin at the End of the World," freeing him from any direct criticism if moviegoers don't like all the twists and turns within the story. 

To film "Knock at the Cabin," Shyamalan wanted to harken back to a simpler time to embrace older ways of telling stories. Applying that to the film shoot itself, the filmmaker used cameras and lenses from the 1990s to make the film feel more timeless.

Shyamalan even used older equipment for flashbacks

"Knock at the Cabin" finds parents Andrew (Jonathan Groff) and Eric (Ben Aldridge) and their young daughter Wen (Kristen Cui) at a remote cabin in need of some serious R&R. Suddenly, four desperate strangers (Dave Bautista, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Abby Quinn, and Rupert Grint) show up and give them a frightening ultimatum to commit a horrible act to prevent the world from ending.

In Empire Magazine's January 2023 issue (via Syfy), Shyamalan explained that he is "drawn to older ways of telling stories," as evidenced by the 1990s-era cameras he used for a majority of the shoot. But for certain flashback sequences, he tracked down equipment that was even older in order to create a visual language that helped convey a sense of dread. "They were barely functional," he said, speaking of the cameras used for those flashbacks. "At certain focal lengths, [shots] would become out of focus. All of those imperfections are part of it."

The decision to use potentially problematic older equipment shows the commitment Shyamalan had to try and give "Knock at the Cabin" a unique look that will hopefully stand out and be noticeable enough for audiences to feel more transported. Personally, I can't see a huge difference in the film's appearance based solely on the trailer, but hopefully it will be visible on a full-size movie screen.

The whole point of doing this was to create the look of "a dark fairy tale," according to the director, who has a tendency to let his imagination run wild (see "Lady in the Water" for confirmation). "I love telling dark stories and I'm going to guide you through some really horrific things, but you can feel the narrator believes in humanity," he said. 

The false security we all feel until there's a knock at the door

With such a wide-open, apocalyptic premise and a clear vision for the aesthetic he wants, Shyamalan is playing to his strengths. Add the fact that he tends to get great performances out of younger actors, and the seasoned, battle-tested filmmaker should deliver a confident thriller full of unexpected surprises. With the world supposedly ending, "Knock at the Cabin" doesn't seem like it's really about the extinction of our species — the real horror comes from the decisions individual people are willing to make to benefit only themselves, or help the greater good. 

It's also clear, based on the Empire article, that one of the major themes will touch on our ideas about safety and security. The feeling of being safe can so quickly be shattered, a reality that almost every home invasion (or cabin invasion) movie succeeds in reminding us of. How safe are we really behind closed doors when the Big Bad Wolf comes calling? "Knock at the Cabin" may prove to be a Grimm's fairytale, with a twist, of course. 

Per Syfy, Shyamalan spoke to those fears and the false security that we are safe just because we're behind closed doors. "When you get a knock at the door, our fears make us think, 'Wait a minute, this is all a facade. Anyone can come in here and do whatever they want.'"

In a lot of ways, the supposed end of the world is much scarier when its four uninvited strangers are telling you that information while they're standing in your own living room. 

"Knock at the Cabin" arrives in theaters on February 3, 2023.