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Was the world really ending in 'Knock at the Cabin'? Author who inspired film weighs in on ending
Who better to ask than the creator of this world?
When Paul Tremblay set out to write The Cabin at the End of the World (the 2018 novel that inspired M. Night Shyamalan's Knock at the Cabin), he seized upon a golden opportunity to place an original twist on the well-worn home invasion genre. Not only would the antagonists have misgivings about breaking and entering, but they would also begin to turn on one another in service of some inexplicable higher power.
"We've all seen the movies where the invaders kill the family," the author told SYFY WIRE over Zoom last month. "And there's even been movies where the invaders [break in] and then the tables are flipped and the people who are invaded kill the intruders. So [I asked myself], ‘Geez, how could I flip that one more way further? It would be really strange if the invaders broke in and then they started killing each other. What would the reason for that be?' That was the initial spark."
Said "spark" became a literary blaze, one that nabbed Tremblay the second Bram Stoker Award of his authorial career. His chilling prose ties up the reader and locks them inside a remote cabin in the woods, where a family of three is taken hostage by four messengers of the (alleged) apocalypse wielding strange implements constructed from ordinary gardening tools. These instruments, the writer explained, were inspired by some of the odder requirements found within all religions.
"There are all these strange rituals where you’re like, ‘Why are we doing this?’ Some of the things some religions ask you to do don't make total rational sense. So I’ve thought the idea of having them build these super-strange ritualistic weapons for someone’s murder — whether it’s themselves or the family deciding to do something — was just a visually creepy thing. But also maybe subconsciously creepy because it’s like, ‘Oh, yeah, the only reason they’re doing it is it’s ritual.’"
Still, the big question remains: was Leonard (Dave Bautista) and his band of acquaintances telling the truth? Was the world really about to end?
***WARNING! THE FOLLOWING CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS FOR THE FILM AND NOVEL!***
The film adaptation heavily deviates from its source material in a number of ways, particularly where the ending is concerned. In the novel, Wen (Kristen Cui) is accidentally killed while Andrew (Ben Aldridge) and Leonard fight for control of the former's gun. Realizing that she can no longer follow the orders of a force that allows innocent children to be harmed, Sabrina (Nikki Amuka-Bird) kills Leonard and helps the grieving parents escape the cabin.
With no sacrificial choice made amongst the family, a powerful storm approaches. Sabrina takes her own life as Eric (Jonathan Groff) and Andrew make their way to Redmond's (Rupert Grint) truck with Wen's body. Tremblay ends the story there, leaving the reader to wonder if the invaders were telling the truth. Were the reports on television a true reflection of the group's collective visions or were they simply coincidental tragedies?
If you were hoping for Tremblay to shed some light on the situation, we have some bad news. The acclaimed writer who enjoys a pen pal relationship with Stephen King doesn't have a concrete explanation and, more importantly, doesn't think there needs to be one.
"I don’t have a definitive answer," he admitted. "The reason why is I wanted to replicate the feeling of whenever you turn on the television — whether or not you’re in a cabin — or look at your phone, it feels like the world is ending. But you don’t know for sure. And at a certain point when I was writing the book, the story for me became not, ‘Is the world going to end or not?’ The story became, ‘What were Eric and Andrew ultimately going to choose?' Were they going to choose to give into the fear of the possibility that the world was ending or are they going to choose each other/love?"
While it's not connected to any of Tremblay's previous works from a narrative standpoint, The Cabin at the End of the World did end up sharing the general concept of "a supernatural, ambiguous element" with his previous two books: Disappearance at Devil's Rock and A Head Full of Ghosts. "When I had the idea for Cabin, I was like, ‘Oh, I like the idea that [it] fits with those two books and it really pushes the supernatural ambiguity to the metaphysical stage,'" he added. "Is there an apocalypse happening or not?"
He went on to say that Eric and Andrew's refusal to kill one of their own was the true focus of the piece:
"As I’m getting older, [I realize] there are so many stories of sacrifice in all cultures [where] sacrifice is a noble thing ... In our United States culture, the stories of sacrifice ... it really feels like the sacrifice is there to keep the status quo, to keep the capitalist machine moving. That stuff kind of bothers me. Like, ‘Oh, this person sacrifices himself so we can continue to live our comfortable, happy lives and there’s no change.’ I liked the idea that people would say, 'No, this is wrong!’ That what they were presented with is morally wrong. It's an abhorrent thing to be asked to do and they say, ‘No, we're not going to do that.’"
The film, on the other hand, takes away a lot of the novel's ambiguity with fire, lighting, and airplanes dropping right out of the sky like a hive of wasps sprayed with repellant. As soon as Eric convinces Andrew to shoot him down in the heart-wrenching climax, this wave of (perhaps divine?) destruction immediately comes to an end. For cast member Abby Quinn (Adriane), there were no coincidences.
"My take is yes [for] the film, and I had been thinking that while we were filming just for the sake of relating to my character," the actress told us over a separate Zoom call last week. "But I definitely think after watching the film twice, my take is that the world was ending — or on the verge of ending — and that Wen and Andrew save it. I think the diner scene is really powerful and what happens to the cabin with the lightning and the fire ... that all leads me to believe that it was actually on the verge of ending."
Just don't ask for a sequel because Tremblay doesn't feel like there's any more story left to explore with these characters, especially since most of them are deceased. "If I ever go back to Cabin, it would be in an obnoxiously metafictional way," he concluded with a laugh. "So it wouldn’t really be the same characters."
Knock at the Cabin is now playing in theaters everywhere. Click here to purchase tickets.
Looking for more horror to make your spine tingle and blood curdle? You can currently catch Jordan Peele's NOPE on Peacock. Plus, don't miss SYFY's hit horror series Chucky, which was just picked up for a third season.