Minor Spoilers for Knock at the Cabin follow!
The 15th feature film from M. Night Shyamalan, Knock at the Cabin has proved to be yet another success for the prolific Indian-American storyteller. Shyamalan is no stranger to mixed critical reception, though his newest work has managed to bring some of his strongest critics and fans together. His creative drive has only gotten stronger these last few years, and people just can’t get enough. Knock at the Cabin finally dethroning Avatar: The Way of Water from its 7-week streak on top of the domestic box office is just the latest testament to Shyamalan’s lasting appeal. Although more factors definitely come into play when discussing this film’s accomplishments, like Dave Bautista further proving himself to be the best wrestler-turned-actor with his most unsettling performance. Two names that deserve to be in every conversation, however, are Jonathan Groff and Ben Aldridge, who lead Knock at the Cabin with immense gravitas.
Based on the novel The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay, we follow couple Eric (Groff) and Andrew (Aldridge) as they vacation in the Pennsylvania woods with their adopted daughter Wen (Kristen Cui). The small family is almost immediately visited by four armed strangers: Leonard (Bautista), Sabrina (Nikki Amuka-Bird), Adriane (Abby Quinn), and Redmond (Rupert Grint). The group’s mysterious visit quickly escalates into a home invasion, as they have no choice but to hold the three hostage in order to deliver an urgent message. The world is coming to an end, and only the people in this remote cabin can prevent the apocalypse. Humanity’s fate ultimately lies in Eric and Andrew’s hands, as they must willingly choose a human sacrifice between themselves and Wen. If that wasn’t already enough, the family must carry out their own sacrifice to stop the impending doom.
M. Night Shyamalan practically reinvents himself with each new project, offering audiences a whole new side to his cinematic capabilities while still staying true to himself at the story’s core. In Knock at the Cabin, the writer-director channels his biggest questions on faith, devotion, and family through his small ensemble cast, especially in Jonathan Groff and Ben Aldridge. The pair brings great levels of heart and brutal honesty to the film, making the nail-biting dilemma at hand all the more difficult to grasp. From voicing Kristoff in Disney’s Frozen to playing ace FBI agent Holden Ford in Netflix’s Mindhunter to revitalizing the villainous Smith in The Matrix Resurrections, Groff has plenty of cherished screen roles to his name aside from his broadway career. Meanwhile, Aldridge has his own growing fanbase with shows like Fleabag and Pennyworth and his recent leading role in the rom-com Spoiler Alert all under his belt.
In our exclusive joint interview with Jonathan Groff and Ben Aldridge, we were able to find out how the duo tackled the most intimate and intense scenes of Knock at the Cabin. They tell us how they built a creative trust with M. Night Shyamalan and nurtured a familial bond with co-star Kristen Cui, who plays their on-screen daughter. Most of all, we get insight into how Groff and Aldridge aced their final heartbreaking scene together during the film’s climax, which is perhaps the biggest difference between Shyamalan’s adaptation and the original book. Lastly, as two out and proud actors, Jonathan Groff and Ben Aldridge share what the gay love story in a big-budget genre project like Knock at the Cabin means for them.
Exclusive Interview with Jonathan Groff and Ben Aldrige for Knock at the Cabin
To start us off with something simple, with this being both of your first experiences working with M. Night Shyamalan, is there anything about his creative process that stood out to you unlike what you’ve seen from past collaborators?
Ben Aldridge: First of all, [before shooting] M. Knight has envisioned the entire film incredibly precisely in his mind’s eye. He sees the entire thing, then he transposes that to a storyboard. And then what he’s doing is he’s executing that storyboard frame by frame by frame as you go along. So stepping onto one of his movies, as an actor, you’re not necessarily discovering it with him, you are part of it. You’re part of the very precise execution of his vision, and that’s a really interesting process.
He is like the ultimate puppet master. It’s like nothing I’ve ever done before. There are challenges in that because I kind of initially felt like, “Oh, I’m not contributing in the way I normally would.” But then the challenge becomes executing what he exactly wants and when you realize that, you just trust and yield to what it is that he’s doing. You have a smoother ride of it. But it’s a very unique process. That’s how he crafted [Knock at the Cabin], his planning is so thorough and amazing.
Knock at the Cabin cranks up the intensity from zero to eleven right from the get-go. Can you talk about having to get into that kind of headspace immediately, and how that affected filming in such an intimate environment like the cabin itself?
Jonathan Groff: It was a revelation for me, personally, because I’ve never done a horror movie before. And like you said, this is not only a horror movie but also a thriller that’s an eleven right from the jump. It was more challenging than I anticipated, to show up every day and be in such a heightened state. The gift of the experience was that there were seven of us, including Kristen the eight-year-old that plays Wen, that were extremely committed 100% of the time, even when the actor was off camera doing off-screen dialogue because what is happening is so extreme, we had to really be there for each other.
So it was intimate, it was extreme, and luckily for all of us, everybody was there with the same level of intensity the entire time. It was definitely a unique, specific experience. And then off-camera, we were laughing, chilling, relaxing, listening to music, going to M. Night’s wife’s Zumba class on a Sunday afternoon, hanging out in Philly, and generally enjoying each other’s company, which was lovely. It was a great sort of balance to the extremity of it all. When we would get called to the set, it really felt like, “Whew, here we go.” We would step into the door of the cabin, and that energy felt heavy in there every time for sure.
I’m glad you brought up Kristen Cui because what a gift she is in this movie! Can you share how formed such a believable family trio, perhaps both on and off-set? Again, right from the start, the audience gets the feeling that you’ve all known each other forever.
Ben Aldridge: Oh my god, she’s just so cool. She’s a really unique, special person. She’s whip-smart. She’s very funny. She’s very intuitive. We were all given these two weeks of rehearsal, which is unusual to get that length of time on any project, to really go over the script with M. Night with a fine tooth comb for his benefit and for ours, but also just to bond in that way. We hung out in the park a lot, played Just Dance on the PlayStation, and also went ice skating.
I think we were just able to really become friends, the three of us, and then that kind of friendship felt like we were a little family. And Kristen’s mom Kat was always there to be part of that with us. I’ve had a few on-screen children and I’ve never bonded in the way that we three did. I just kind of like fell in love with her as if she was a sister or a niece. Like, very similar to the way I feel about my actual nieces or nephews.
So your characters go through quite the emotional journey full of twists and turns in Knock at the Cabin. Now, the film does deviate from the book when it comes to the ending with Eric and Andrew. Did M. Night Shyamalan inform how these spiraling character arcs would end or did it just transpire naturally while filming?
Jonathan Groff: That’s a good question. He never really spoke to us about the themes of the story. Instead, he was incredibly verbal and incredibly specific about the articulation of the words of his script, down to the commas and the periods. There was nothing improvisational about the words at all, it was very specific. It was sort of a mystery. We shot it chronologically and there’s this big scene at the end between the two of us, the climax of the movie. I remember we rehearsed the scene only once in rehearsal, and it was really intense and very emotional. Then M. Night said, “Okay, let’s leave it. Let’s not overthink this. Let’s just save that for when the time comes.”
M. Night had a very specific idea of how he wanted to shoot the ending, but we didn’t really talk about it that much. The thing that he kept telling and reminding us throughout the course of shooting, with Eric being the believer and Andrew being the skeptic, was to play the love in the dialogue and to play the love for each other. And there was also this revelation to me. I read the script and was scared and horrified, but it wasn’t really until we were all working with M. Night and with each other on set that love was such an overriding energy in the room, especially between the two of us. That was something M. Night, I think, recognized more and more even as we were shooting.
Lastly, would you like to share some thoughts on how Knock at the Cabin advances LGBTQ+ representation in horror/thrillers? Gay characters in these genres are usually pushed to the side and not given this kind of spotlight.
Ben Aldridge: I think Knock at the Cabin is something we’re both so proud of and grateful for. Both of us in our acting journey, as we’ve discussed, had you asked us 10-15 years ago if we could foresee this moment being out actors, and there being these jobs and stories available to us, we would have simply said “no.” It didn’t ever look like that was possible. So it’s just such a nice thing to celebrate and to recognize, and I think we both feel very grateful.