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Where ‘Knock at the Cabin’ ranks on the Shyamalan movie ending bleak-o-meter
When M. Night Shyamalan decides to go dark, he goes all the way.
Even when M. Night Shyamalan is telling a dark tale, he has a propensity to leave audiences pondering what they've just watched with a glimmer of hope, or at least some peace. From The Sixth Sense to Signs, all the way through to The Visit, some terrible things go down inside the narrative, but there's always something concrete for his characters to move towards in their proverbial next chapters. But sometimes Shyamalan likes to flip the table on us by serve us up something that leaves us with a queasy pit in our stomachs as those credits roll.
**SPOILER WARNING! Spoilers below for M. Night Shyamalan's Knock at the Cabin!**
Shyamalan's latest, Knock at the Cabin, fits right into that more rare, somber category of his output, where there's not a whole lot to hang onto. It's certainly in keeping with author Paul Tremblay's original source material, The Cabin at the End of the World, even as Shyamalan veers away from some specific plot points in the book to craft an original ending to the film. Shyamalan's take opens up a new set of moral quandaries that retain, arguably, an equal gut punch to the book's resolution.
Depending on your personal lens regarding the themes of parenthood, religion and/or LGBTQ+ issues, the Knock at the Cabin ending still arrives on the sliding scale of "awful" to "unbearably awful," as no one escapes the apocryphal day unscathed. Even if you see a tiny tinge of hopefulness shining through in the final moments, the residual fallout is without question going to be emotionally horrific. In fact, the Cabin ending really only rivals two other Shyamalan films — The Happening and Unbreakable — in terms of dire outcomes. All three films offer us endings that kick open the doors of consequential change coming for humanity, and there's nothing pleasant about those imagined futures.
With Unbreakable, Shyamalan was way ahead of his time in tempering the attractive fantasy of possessing superhero powers by weaving them into the more sedate, mundane lives of average humans. Through David Dunn (Bruce Willis), who survives a catastrophic train wreck, the auteur is able to play with the audience's expectations by introducing that event as a random one that changes David's whole life. But by the end, Shyamalan reframes what we've assumed was an arbitrary inciting incident to David's discovery of his extraordinary abilities, as actually very intentional, and coaxed out to the surface by the actions of Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson). The last act reveal that Price, aka Mr. Glass, orchestrated the train wreck — and who knows how many other terrible events — to draw out his nemesis, offers no glee in that turn. Our realization along with David's, that true evil has been unleashed to prove a madman's theory about his importance in the world, is anything but exciting. It's sobering and arguably one of the most interesting cinematic takes on the traditional tenets of a superhero story.
But The Happening takes that depressing denouement and goes positively cataclysmic on humanity. While the film itself doesn't rank among Shyamalan's best due to its tone and performances, it is effective in melding Mother Nature and the supernatural together in essentially a revenge flick against humanity. Having had it with our destructive, polluting ways, nature ups its game, evolving to produce an airborne toxin that, when breathed by humans, prompts a suicidal response. While Shyamalan tries hard to make tree branches wafting in the wind terrifying (and doesn't quite get there), he does succeed in landing an ending that portends the worst for us all entirely based on our thoughtless and reckless choices. Again, the narrative makes us assume the events in the movie are the war, but instead the last moments confirm that was only one battle. As Parisians are captured on video falling to their deaths en masse, it's clear that there will be no mercy bestowed on humanity from the biodiversity of our planet. We are the weed population that will be pruned from existence.
And so we applaud Shyamalan for this particular trilogy of terror, for his bravery in tempering his sunniest inclinations to offer us stories that don't pull the punches.
Knock at the Cabin in now playing in theaters.