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SYFY WIRE Knock at the Cabin

Does 'Knock at the Cabin' have a twist? Shyamalan says it's 'a jury movie'

Director M. Night Shyamalan explains how he worked to keep audiences guessing in Knock at the Cabin.

By James Grebey
Knock at the Cabin

Ever since M. Night Shyamalan shocked audiences with the ending of his breakout film, The Sixth Sense, he’s been commonly thought of as a master of the twist-ending. It’s certainly not an unearned moniker, and he’s made several twist-ending movies since, but there’s more to the director than just twists. His new film Knock at the Cabin may or may not have a twist ending (we’re not spoiling) — should viewers go into the movie trying to outsmart Shyamalan?

They can certainly try, but the director told SYFY WIRE that the film is “intended to be a jury movie.”

“It’s like 12 Angry Men or something, where you’re going ‘Innocent! Guilty! Innocent! Guilty!’” Shyamalan said in an interview ahead of the Knock at the Cabin’s Feb. 3 premiere. The film, based on Paul G. Tremblay’s novel The Cabin at the End of the World, is about four strangers who take a married couple and their daughter hostage at a cabin, claiming that they must choose to sacrifice one of their family members, or else the world will end. Are they crazy? Or at they telling the truth?

“There’s ‘I don’t believe it’ and ‘I believe it,’” Shyamalan said, expressing his hope that moviegoers will be bouncing back and forth between the two options. “In the best way, the audience doesn’t trust me, so either one could happen.”

Making sure that audience isn’t sure one way or another is a delicate balancing act. Tip your hand too much, and they’ll know the truth for sure. Too little and they won’t have enough information to even wonder. Shyamalan says he would show small audiences various cuts of the film as he was making it and use their responses the gauge how ambiguous the film was. 

“There was one critical piece of information [in a working cut of the movie] that I pulled out of the end that brought the movie perfectly into balance,” he said. though he won’t specify exactly what the information was. “It now seems obvious that I should have never put it in there, but for a long time, it was in there. And, when I pulled it out, suddenly everything went ‘click’ into balance. The doubt was very strong and the belief was very strong and it kept swinging.”

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Ben Aldridge, the actor who plays one half of the couple who are taken hostage, said he left the doubt to Shyamalan and the script rather than to his own acting. There’s no added layer of deception in his performance, just what his character, Andrew, thinks.

“It’s a slightly dangerous road to ever try to play ambiguity as an actor,” he told SYFY WIRE. “What you want to try to do is play what the person believes. I was just ultimately committing to everything that Andrew believed at that moment. 

“If you’re playing, like, a red herring or a murderer, if you start to try to manipulate that, it can go very wrong for you,” he continued.

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Whatever the truth is, Jonathan Groff, who plays Andrew’s husband Eric, said audiences should go in expecting one thing from Knock at the Cabin.

“I remember every Night movie that I’ve seen in the theater. He’s got such a specific way of looking at the world,” Groff said. “The only specific expectation I would say that the audience should have is: It’s a Night movie.

“Night cares about the audience more than anything else and he’s constantly thinking about the ways in which he is going to entertain and challenge them,” Groff continued. “When we were in rehearsal, when we were shooting, he was always referencing the audience and constantly thinking of them.”

So, if you find yourself guessing or doubting yourself during Knock at the Cabin, know that it was Shyamalan’s very deliberate intent.

Knock at the Cabin hits theaters on Feb. 3.