'Knock at the Cabin' and the Terror of Raising Children (2024)


M. Night Shyamalan understands how to make a ludicrous horror concept work: Add in a healthy dose of tenderness.

'Knock at the Cabin' and the Terror of Raising Children (1)

M. Night Shyamalan’s filmmaking career has taken many wild and woolly turns over 30-plus years, but recently, he seems to have struck on a powerful, understated plot formula: What if you went on a vacation with your children and something terrible happened? In his 2021 hit, Old, a family gets stuck on a secret beach that ages them rapidly. His new follow-up, Knock at the Cabin, proposes another Twilight Zone–esque conundrum to a family trying to enjoy a weekend away. Simply put, the world is ending, and the only way to stop it is by killing someone they love.

That ultimatum is delivered to them by four intimidating strangers carrying medieval-looking weapons, led by the hulking Leonard (played by Dave Bautista). The family at risk is a gay couple, Eric (Jonathan Groff) and Andrew (Ben Aldridge), and their adopted daughter, Wen (Kristen Cui), and they immediately assume that the threat is just a cruel hoax rooted in prejudice, which the home invaders deny. Shyamalan has become deeply preoccupied with how family units can be tested by enormous, even supernatural stress. Knock at the Cabin is maybe his bluntest exploration yet, as Eric and Andrew slowly realize they are in the vise of an impossible choice.

The premise unfolds in a way that’s unusually plain for Shyamalan. It lacks the loopy fantasy elements of Old, the comic-book heightening of Split and Glass, and the outright slapstick humor of The Visit, the found-footage horror that helped rebound his career in 2015. Knock at the Cabin is based on the novel The Cabin at the End of the World, by Paul G. Tremblay, and it retains most of that story’s unnerving, direct narrative. Leonard and his foreboding sidekicks initially seem like a cult entirely detached from reality. But as the day drags on, Leonard’s apocalyptic visions seem more and more plausible.

Read: Glass is M. Night Shyamalan at his weirdest

One of Shyamalan’s touchstones as a horror storyteller is his sincerity; he takes ludicrous concepts and somehow squeezes them into the realm of reality. That tonal trick hasn’t always worked—what sank films such as The Happening and Lady in the Water was how jarring the juxtaposition was between the ensembles’ earnest performances and the plots’ fundamental silliness. Knock at the Cabin avoids this problem partly through its deft casting, with Bautista serving as the most pivotal player. So much of the movie revolves around Leonard’s surreal monologues; the actor keeps a firm grasp on Leonard’s belief in his every word.

Bautista’s breakout performance came in Guardians of the Galaxy, in which he played an alien who always means exactly what he says—he’s from a planet without irony. The disarming authenticity he honed in that role makes him a particularly strong screen presence here, giving Leonard an aura of menace that extends beyond his imposing physical form (and his big bladed weapon). Leonard’s omen sounds patently absurd, and the main evidence he and his fellow attackers have to offer is their collective visions. But Leonard’s gentle exhortation that the only way forward involves violent death demands everyone’s attention precisely because he says it in such a measured, muted way.

Equally unsettling is the fact that the world actually does seem to be melting down around Eric and Andrew; Leonard points to reports of tsunamis, pandemics, and other cataclysms that I shan’t spoil as proof that his predictions are bubbling to life. But the cruel twist is that those kinds of horrible events play out on the news all the time, and Eric and Andrew’s desensitization fuels their denial. At the core of Shyamalan’s story is the idea that raising children in this world—where ocean levels are rising and ambient doom is almost always hovering in the background—is an inherently tragic project.

Shyamalan sprinkles in a few flashbacks of Eric and Andrew’s relationship, their struggle to adopt a child, and their resiliency. Those fleeting memories help clarify the stakes of their looming sacrifice. They also introduce a knotty angle that the film barely has time to explore but that I kept pondering after leaving the theater. Is Eric and Andrew’s fate entirely random, or have they been chosen because their relationship is so powerful? Shyamalan’s adoration for the dads and their sweetly introverted daughter is evidenced by scenes of genuine tenderness, and Groff’s performance is especially moving. But those touches also make the film’s final act all the more wrenching; it’s suffused with disaster and entirely devoid of winks to the camera.

David Sims is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he covers culture.

'Knock at the Cabin' and the Terror of Raising Children (2024)


What is the meaning behind the movie Knock at the Cabin? ›

The movie explores the theme of love conquering all, highlighting the power of Eric and Andrew's strong and unwavering love for each other. The nature of the apocalyptic events in Knock at the Cabin is left ambiguous, leaving the audience to interpret whether they were real or a timed coincidence.

What is the twist Knock at the Cabin? ›

Knock at the Cabin plays its premise surprisingly straight: there are no twists and turns. Four strangers tell Eric, Andrew and Wen that one of them will need to be sacrificed for the world to be saved. That turns out to be true. At the climax of the movie, Eric picks himself to die, and Andrew has to shoot him.

Did Eric see a figure in Knock at the Cabin? ›

In Knock at The Cabin (2023) You can see the figure one of the characters was talking about later in the movie (Spoilers) Eric says he saw a "person or a figure" in the mirror behind the invaders, before they killed Redmond.

Why did they have to sacrifice someone in Knock at the Cabin? ›

The cabin is soon invaded by four armed strangers: Leonard, Redmond, Sabrina, and Adriane. They tell the family that they must sacrifice one of their own in order to stop the end of the world. If they don't make a sacrifice, the three of them will live, but the rest of humanity will be wiped out.

Why was Redmond killed in Knock at the Cabin? ›

Just like in The Cabin at the End of the World, Redmond is the first one to sacrifice himself and be killed by his fellow captors in Knock at the Cabin—an act they claim is the impetus behind a string of tsunamis striking the West Coast of the U.S. A concussed Eric sees what he believes to be a figure of light at the ...

Was the world really ending in Knock at the Cabin? ›

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.

What is the meaning of the 4 people in Knock at the Cabin? ›

Knock at the Cabin's Four Horsem*n of the Apocalypse each represent a different aspect, analogous to the biblical harbingers of doomsday. The deaths of Redmond, Adriane, Sabrina, and Leonard trigger destructive phases of the apocalypse, symbolizing malice, nurturing, healing, and guidance respectively.

Is there a secret ending in Knock at the Cabin? ›

Knock At The Cabin Does Not Have An After-Credits Scene

Knock at the Cabin's book ended far more ambiguously, whereas the final moments of Shyamalan's movie confirm that Leonard's apocalyptic warnings were genuine. The lack of a post-credits scene in Knock at the Cabin shouldn't be surprising, as M.

How did Knock at the Cabin book end? ›

In an ensuing scuffle with Leonard, the gun goes off and his child Wen is killed. Her death is an accident, though, and it does not stop the apocalypse. At the end of the novel, the heartbroken fathers refuse to kill each other, leaving whoever survives entirely alone.

Why are there 7 knocks in Knock at the Cabin? ›

He knocks seven times exactly, and the number seven in the Christian bible has a few significant meanings. For example, there are seven seals that God protects with his right hand. Also, seven represents the completion of the crucifixion, where Jesus spoke seven statements on the cross.

What did the guy see in the light in Knock at the Cabin? ›

The figure that Eric sees in the mirror in Knock at the Cabin is confirmed to be some higher power. He admits in the 2023 horror movie that he first saw the figure after Redmond's death and that he could feel the being in him at the end.

Why was the family chosen in Knock at the Cabin? ›

In the end of Knock at the Cabin, there are no good choices, just the lesser of two evils, but Andrew and Wen can live with the knowledge that their family was chosen because it represented the purest presentation of love, and take comfort in Eric's selfless act of heroism.

What is the message of Knock at the Cabin? ›

Knock at the Cabin reminds us that love and loss are both integral parts of life and that they must be experienced and navigated with care and compassion.

Who ends up dying in Knock at the Cabin? ›

Although Eric, Andrew, and Wen could have wandered the scorched Earth together, Eric didn't want Wen to grow up in this post-apocalyptic landscape, causing him to give up his life. Andrew takes the gun and shoots his husband, tragically ending the main story of the film.

Who are the bad guys in Knock at the Cabin? ›

Leonard is the main antagonist, while Sabrina is the secondary antagonist and both Adriane and Redmond are major antagonists. Leonard, the de-facto leader of the Horsem*n, was portrayed by Dave Bautista, who also played Mr.

What was the knock on the cabin door about? ›

Plot. Seven-year-old Wen is vacationing with her fathers, Eric and Andrew, at a remote cabin in rural Pennsylvania. She is approached by a stranger named Leonard, who explains that he needs Wen and her parents' help to save the world. Three other individuals break in with makeshift weapons and tie them up.

Is Knock at the Cabin about God? ›

Knock at the Cabin explores Christian notions of the apocalypse.


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