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Knock at the Cabin star Nikki Amuka-Bird: 'M Night Shyamalan enjoys pushing people through their fears'

Knock at the Cabin asks what we would sacrifice to stop the apocalypse. One of its 'messengers' Nikki Amuka-Bird explains how it relates to our world today

Abby Quinn, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Dave Bautista and Rupert Grint in Knock at the Cabin

Abby Quinn, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Dave Bautista and Rupert Grint in Knock at the Cabin. Image: © Universal Studios

Knock at the Cabin is M Night Shyamalan’s latest thrill ride that leaves the audience wrestling profound questions long after the film finishes. It follows a family who go down to the woods and get a very big surprise when four ‘messengers’ knock on their cabin door, delivering quite the dilemma.

Nikki Amuka-Bird, who plays one of the strangers alongside Dave Bautista, Rupert Grint and Abby Quinn, tells us more…

The Big Issue: What is the central question posed by Knock at the Cabin?

Nikki Amuka-Bird: The basic story is a family on holiday in the woods: Daddy Eric and Daddy Andrew and their daughter Wen, that’s what she calls them. They want to get away so they go some place remote. Then there’s a knock on the door and four strangers arrive saying that they’ve had supernatural visions. The apocalypse is here, and they are the only ones who can save the world from ending today. But in order to do that they have to sacrifice one of the family members.

And you are one of the strangers?

I play Sabrina, a nurse. She’s really normal. That was what drew me to it when I first read the script. When Night said to me, I’d love to work with you again, I was so excited [Shyamalan directed Amuka-Bird in 2021’s Old]. Then I read the script and I was terrified.

By the story or what you’d have to do as this character?

All of it. Night really plays with fear. He enjoys pushing people through their fears, whether that’s the audience or the characters and actors. Some of the stuff she has to do… He assured me that what he was looking for was somebody who was a kind, good-hearted person, who was willing to sacrifice herself to save others and that was a really interesting juxtaposition. I wanted to know what would drive a person to do these things.

What elements of Knock at the Cabin speak to the times we’re living in?

We’ve all collectively been through more fear than we’ve ever experienced in the last few years. The pandemic, reading about climate change. Hearing the statistics and thinking, are we out of control? What can we do as individuals? What Night does is take those underlying fears, that low hum of fear a lot of us live with, then he turns the volume up on that, speeds up the clock and says: what if all those things you were scared of were happening today?

Nikki Amuka-Bird. Image: Stephane Cardinale - Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images)
Nikki Amuka-Bird. Image: Stephane Cardinale – Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images)

Did you talk what you’d do if you were forced to sacrifice a family to save the planet with your co-stars?

The funniest thing is we never asked ourselves that question. It was quite an emotional experience because all of these characters are facing their mortality in some way. And on this day, facing probably their worst fear. So strangely, we managed to have some fun as well… maybe it’s like a hysteria or something.

We know the world is doomed. Why are we so reluctant to make any sacrifices to save it and everyone in it?

We’re faced with all of these things all the time. What materials do we use? What food do we eat? How are we recycling? Are we doing enough? It’s always the question – are we doing enough? Even when we were at the very beginning of lockdown, each person had their own scale of what was the level of sacrifice they were willing to make. That’s what good drama should do. It should provoke and challenge and I think Night’s one of the masters of that. He’s really good at creating a popcorn movie that’s entertaining and exciting and terrifying and all the things you want to experience in the cinema, but then leaving you asking bigger questions.

Knock at the Cabin has been compared to a biblical story set in the modern world. You have compared it to Greek tragedy.

That’s exactly how I felt reading this. I don’t think it’s giving anything away to say it is a tragedy. With great tragedy, you experience it along with the protagonist, then you leave with this relief that you haven’t had to go through what they’ve had to go through. As a result, you end up appreciating your life and your circumstances better. That was the function of classical tragedy and I think Night taps into a similar thing. What I come out of it with is a real appreciation for all those things we take for granted.

The Big Issue was set up nearly 32 years ago now with support from Gordon and Anita Roddick of The Body Shop. I believe they influenced your life too?

I don’t really know how my mum suddenly decided she wanted to be a part of The Body Shop. What I know is that as a single mum, raising a child by herself, she wanted to take the franchise to the West Indies. They really believed in her and her vision and she went to Antigua to set up the first Body Shop there. Mum was able to do a lot of activism there: HIV awareness, environmental issues, cleaning up the beaches. They had a huge effect on our lives.

Knock at the Cabin is out from 3 February in cinemas

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