SPOILER ALERT: This contains major spoilers for “Knock at the Cabin,” now playing in theaters.
Director M. Night Shyamalan’s latest tense, apocalyptic thriller, “Knock at the Cabin,” is adapted from author Paul Tremblay’s novel “The Cabin at the End of the World,” but the Universal film majorly diverges from the book with its ending.
Both properties center around a family of three, made up of fathers Eric and Andrew (played by Jonathan Groff and Ben Aldridge) and their young daughter Wen (newcomer Kristen Cui), whose vacation in the woods is interrupted by four strangers who warn them of an impending doomsday. The four intruders are Leonard (Dave Bautista), Sabrina (Nikki Amuka-Bird), Adriane (Abby Quinn) and Redmond (Rupert Grint). Plagued by apocalyptic visions that appear to come true, they tie up Eric, Andrew and Wen and demand that the family sacrifices one of its own to prevent the end of the world.
In the movie and the book, Eric and Andrew refuse to kill anyone, so Redmond submits himself to being beaten to death by his colleagues. From here, the two stories begin to differ. In the film, Adriane is the next person to be sacrificed, and then Andrew manages to escape his bindings and retrieve a gun from his car. He kills Sabrina in self-defense, and Leonard barricades himself in the bathroom. Leonard survives a gunshot wound but soon resigns to slicing his own throat after Eric and Andrew are steadfast in keeping their family alive. However, as planes begin to fall from the sky, Eric decides that he must die to prevent the end of the world. He tearfully convinces Andrew to shoot him, and sure enough, the apocalypse is averted. Andrew and Wen then go outside and see that the plagues inflicted upon the world have stopped in a somber, but slightly positive, finale.
In the book, when Andrew gets his gun, he kills Adriane, instead of Sabrina. He and Leonard have a similar fight over the gun, but in a tragic twist Wen is accidentally shot and killed. However, Leonard says that the apocalypse has not been prevented because Wen wasn’t a willing sacrifice. Sabrina then abandons her mission, kills Leonard and gives Andrew and Eric the keys to a car before killing herself. Taking Wen’s body with them, Andrew and Eric drive off and face whatever doomsday awaits them. Pretty dark!
Steve Desmond and Michael Sherman, who wrote the screenplay with Shyamalan, agreed the book’s original, grim ending had to be changed for film.
“We adapted it slightly different than the book, and then [Shyamalan] had a whole new vision for what the ending could be,” Desmond and Sherman told Variety at the “Knock at the Cabin” premiere. “The book is the book, and the movie is the movie, and we think they both were exceptional mediums. This is a big, wide release movie that is meant for a very large audience. There are some decisions that the book made that were pretty dark and may have been a little too much for a broader audience. That was a decision that [Shyamalan] immediately recognized. It’s a great ending now.”
The movie also adds a brief flash-forward that shows an adult Wen and older Andrew. It’s conjured when Eric convinces Andrew to kill him in order to save the world and give their daughter the chance to have a future and live her life. It’s a more concrete finale than the darker, open-ended closing of the book, but still an unsettling one where the world has experienced massive destruction.
“I think it’s dark and terrifying, but uplifting in the sense that it ends with these two people who at least still have each other,” said Quinn. “There’s the last shot of [Andrew and Wen] in the car messing with the music and you see the flash-forward of them when they’re older and they look happier, so I think hopeful and uplifting in that way. It seems like they make it through and are relatively OK. But real dark!”
In the film and the book, Andrew is skeptical that the doomsday prophecy is real and thinks that the four intruders are homophobic killers out for a sick prank with fake news footage of worldwide disasters. At the same time, Eric, who suffers a concussion, starts to see visions of light and ends up believing that the strangers are the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
Tremblay says he left the ending of “The Cabin at the End of the World” “purposely ambiguous” regarding whether or not the end of the world will actually happen, but he said the “Knock at the Cabin” film ending is “not that hopeful” either.
“I find it horrific there’s this higher power that is just going to willy-nilly sacrifice humans for everybody else,” he said. “It doesn’t seem like a very moral thing to do, so I don’t find it that hopeful. I find the idea of what happened in my book — that the two characters reject that, like ‘No, we’re not going to sacrifice. That’s wrong. We’re going to go on.’ That’s a little bit more hopeful.”
Shyamalan admitted that he’s an “optimistic guy” but declined to fully reveal how audiences should interpret the ending.
“The most important thing at the end is that everybody puts themselves in the characters’ shoes,” the director said. “What would they have done? I feel that genre helps me tell emotional stories. I’m generally an optimistic guy, so I get to do really dark things, and the audience feels held by somebody that isn’t nihilistic. I can push pretty hard because you can feel the vocabulary is not from someone who’s trying to hurt you.”