When M. Night Shyamalan’s new psychological horror film Knock at the Cabin drops in theaters this weekend, it will be introducing a new face to the world of cinema.
The director has a strong talent for picking young stars to drive his films (Haley Joel Osment’s performance in The Sixth Sense even earned the young actor an Oscar nomination) and it’s already apparent that nine-year-old Kristen Cui will rise to the occasion.
While the draw of seeing herself on the big screen and billboards initially piqued Kristen’s interest in acting, it wasn’t until she was on set for Knock at the Cabin that it solidified her passion.
“On the first scene that I shot, like first movie scene that I shot ever, which was actually for Knock at the Cabin, I’m like, ‘Yeah, this is what I want to do. I want this as my main hobby.’ It’s just interesting,” the young actress says.
She recalls her audition process, saying she filmed a tape and got a call from the director himself, M. Night Shyamalan. “Night called and he told me that I had actually gotten the part which is hard to believe.” She grins as she adds, “What’s even more hard to believe is that I made it through and I can’t believe I’m here, talking to you right now.”
When asked what her reaction was once she found out she got the role, Kristen lights up. “I was just so excited to go shoot the movie! I was tickled a bit awake from a nap and I [felt] like a balloon about to pop with excitement! I was just really glad that I’d gotten the part.”
Knock at the Cabin follows Kristen’s character Wen and her two fathers, Andrew [Ben Aldridge] and Eric [Jonathan Groff], as they relax on a vacation in a secluded cabin.
“They’re trying to enjoy themselves but then suddenly, out of nowhere, Dave Bautista’s character comes knocking on the door,” Kristen says. It’s that knock that leads the family of three into an impossible scenario. Dave’s character Leonard informs them that to save the rest of the world, they must choose which family member to sacrifice. Without any way of knowing the truth about Leonard’s comments, the family must fight to survive or decide.
“I think Wen is curious. She is kind. She’s a good girl,” the actress says of her character. “Wen and her parents are absolutely close,” she continues, adding that she, Ben, and Jonathan – who she refers to as Daddy Andrew and Daddy Eric, respectively – are also close in real life too.
To build that bond between the three of them, they did a number of group activities together. “We went skating and we also played a game on my Nintendo – actually, a few games.” When asked who won the most, she says that while she won a lot, her fictional parents won a few games too. She doesn’t recall all of the games that they played together but she adds that she recently got a new Nintendo game, Big Brain Adventure. “It’s just so fun!”
She adds of the time spent with Ben and Jonathan, “We had a good time together and we went to a bunch of other places.”
On set together, she says Ben and Jonathan were very serious but also very kind. “I would say generous as well,” she says. “They took care of me on set and I think they’re really good people.” She has similar sentiments about the rest of the cast too. “They’re all very kind and they’re very good actors. The entire cast and crew, they’re all very good people.”
When it comes to the man behind the film, M. Night Shyamalan, Kristen continues her praises, her face lighting up even more as she speaks. “He is a genius director! He is so nice and so generous and he just knows how to get you to be able to think into your character,” she says. “[It was] making my life so much easier.”
They’re all so interesting because magic isn’t really something that you can actually experience in everyday life.
One way he helped her channel Wen was with a simple piece of advice. “The thing that he would always say is, ‘Think the thoughts.’ At first, I really didn’t know what that meant but I just thought about it and it really all made sense. That phrase,” she says, “just helped me sink into Wen.”
Shooting the film brought the cast to an actual cabin built by the crew for the movie. “It was a bit scary to have all that creepy stuff lying around, but overall it was really fun,” Kristen says.
As seen in one of the trailers for the film, Kristen’s character is able to escape the cabin and makes a break toward the woods until she is stopped by Leonard. When it came to shooting that scene, Kristen says she focused on practicing the emotion behind the run.
“Just a single little action would really make a very big effect on the mood in that scene,” the actress says. “So I thought that I would have to practice it and I would just have to get better at it and prepare.”
Being on the set of a film like Knock at the Cabin meant the unveiling of a few Hollywood secrets of what goes into creating a movie like this. One aspect of filming that surprised Kristen was the way the crew created trails of blood.
“I would never think how they made any trails of blood but they actually used like a white rag doll and they just put red stuff on it, and then we dragged it along the floor.” That action created a red track that looked like blood, according to Kristen. “I never thought that would be the way to make one of those!”
Picking one of her favorite memories from the set is hard for her to do but she manages to narrow it down to just two.
“There was this water scene and we were swimming and jumping in the lake. We all got wet but we had to do a bunch of takes so we had to change. So we had a race and we were trying to figure out who could change faster,” she recalls.
On another occasion, she and Ben were wearing shorts and a t-shirt while Jonathan was wearing long sleeves and long pants. “[Jonathan] caught a bunch of seaweed once and somebody was taking it off and he was like, ‘Oh, full service!’ and everybody laughed. It was so funny.”
When it comes time for Kristen to describe the film in three words, she is quick to say, “Thrilling!” However, she takes a few moments to pause and think about the other two descriptors. “A bit breathtaking,” she continues, “and it’s a nail-biting film!”
While Knock at the Cabin will undoubtedly be on the watchlist, and rewatch list, of many M. Night Shyamalan fans for years to come, Kristen’s watchlist looks a bit different.
“I don’t really have any favorite films that I like to watch a lot,” she confesses when asked what movies she likes to rewatch. “I do have a favorite film and that’s one of the Harry Potter films.” She declines to pick her favorite of the franchise as she’s not sure yet herself. “They’re all so interesting because magic isn’t really something that you can actually experience in everyday life.”
Kristen is quite knowledgeable when it comes to Harry Potter, explaining and reciting spells like expelliarmus and wingardium leviosa as the topic veers into all things magic, something that interests her greatly. Speaking of the latter spell, she says, “Like the dolly that helps the camera move, you can literally make that fly without even using any muscle.”
Funnily enough though, despite starring alongside Ron Weasley himself Rupert Grint in Knock at the Cabin, she shares, “I really wasn’t thinking about Harry Potter at the time because I really didn’t start reading the Harry Potter series yet when I first met him.” Still, she is full of praise for her magical co-star. “He is very nice and he’s an excellent actor. He is absolutely amazing.”
When it comes to future projects, Kristen hopes to work alongside on-screen dad Ben again due to the great performances he’s able to bring out in other people.
“He’s an excellent actor. He literally pushes me with his own emotions, which I think would make him an excellent actor to be with. Especially for partner acting, like a conversation while I act that has to be really emotional. It would be very nice with him. Even if it’s a silent conversation with full emotion, it would still be very, very, very [good].”
When it comes to the genres of her future projects, Kristen has her eyes set on comedy.
“I would want to be in a comedy movie,” she says. “I’m a big fan of comedy and it just makes you laugh! It literally makes me laugh so hard that I fall on the couch!”
Knock at the Cabin is in theaters now!
For all things Kristen Cui, be sure to follow her on Instagram!
*This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
**Edit made 5:45pm ET on February 4, 2023 to correct Kristen’s age from 8 to 9.
Let us know what you think!