How 'Knock at the Cabin' is different from the novel 'The Cabin at the End of the World'
Warning: Contains major spoilers for Knock at the Cabin and its source material, The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay.
A small family vacation in a remote cabin get interrupted by four strangers with a terrible proposition.
That’s the tense central premise at the core of both M. Night Shyamalan’s new film Knock at the Cabin and the novel it’s based on, Paul Tremblay’s The Cabin at the End of the World. In its opening act, at least, the movie follows closely enough to the book, with the invading strangers telling the trapped family that they must kill one of their own in order to prevent the world from ending.
But as the story progresses, the film’s script — co-written by Shyamalan, Steve Desmond, and Michael Sherman — shifts further away from its source material.
We’ve broken down the key differences, and what they might mean, below.
Horror author Paul Tremblay on ‘Knock at the Cabin’ and the highs and lows of Hollywood adaptation
The order of deaths changes.
Credit: Universal Pictures
There are seven core characters in both the book and the movie: vacationing couple Andrew (Ben Aldridge) and Eric (Jonathan Groff), their daughter Wen (Kristen Cui), and Leonard (Dave Bautista), Adriane (Abby Quinn), Redmond (Rupert Grint), and Sabrina (Nikki Amuka-Bird), the four invading strangers.
Once these strangers have gained access to the cabin and tied up Andrew and Eric, Leonard presents them with the choice: Either they kill one of their own family members, who must be a willing sacrifice, or the world will end. If they delay their decision, the strangers will start ritualistically killing each other as their prophecy demands.
As we mentioned before, this is the same premise in both the movie and the novel. The first person to be killed – Redmond – is the same, too, but his death marks where the major plot changes begin. Adriane dies next in both the book and the movie, but in the novel she’s killed by Andrew after he manages to escape, while in the film she dies at the hands of the invaders. In the book, Leonard is killed by Sabrina, who soon after that kills herself; in the movie, Sabrina is killed by Andrew, and Leonard lasts until the final confrontation at the end, during which he dies by suicide.
There are probably a couple of reasons why M. Night Shyamalan decided to switch this up in his adaptation, one of them likely being so that Leonard – the main antagonist played by the biggest star of the movie, Dave Bautista – could last until the end.
The other reason probably has to do with another huge departure from the book…
Wen’s fate is different.
Credit: Universal Pictures
In Tremblay’s novel, the unthinkable happens. After Andrew has killed Adriane, he struggles with Leonard for control of the gun and it goes off, killing Wen. This is one of the biggest changes the adaptation makes; in the movie, Wen doesn’t die.
This change has some huge ripple effects for the story. In the novel, Wen’s death acts as a catalyst for the narrative’s final act, making the surviving characters question what they’ve been doing up to that point. If Wen’s death isn’t enough to stop the apocalypse, what kind of deity are the invaders serving? Why wouldn’t the death of an innocent child be enough of a sacrifice?
If we had to guess, we’d say this aspect of the novel – easily its darkest moment – may have been changed to appease audiences. Although a key character still dies in the movie, Shyamalan may have decided Wen’s death was simply too dark for a blockbuster.
The ending of the movie is a complete departure from the book.
Credit: Universal Pictures
As we mentioned before, a key character does still die in the movie: Eric. It happens right at the end, after all the invaders are dead, and only the three family members remain. By this point Eric believes the apocalypse is real, and he begs Andrew to kill him to prevent it. Andrew does. After it’s done, Andrew and Wen flee the cabin (which is burning after being hit by lightning) and drive to a diner, where they see on the news that the various terrifying events they glimpsed on the cabin’s TV – tsunamis, a plague, planes crash landing – have abruptly stopped.
The film, in a nutshell, makes things pretty clear: The apocalypse really was happening, and the invaders were telling the truth all along.
The book offers no such clarity. Like Tremblay’s earlier hit novel A Head Full Ghosts, the story derives its main tension from the uncertainty around the intruders and whether or not they’re lying, deluded, or correct. Things are ambiguous the whole way through, and the ending keeps things that way.
In the novel, Andrew and Eric are the only survivors in the story, and although Eric considers death, they ultimately decide to stay with each other. They make a choice to reject the nightmarish proposition the strangers have offered.
“They expect us to believe that Wen’s death isn’t a good enough sacrifice for their god,” says Andrew. “So you know what? Fuck them and their god.”
Mashable’s Kristy Puchko argues in her review that the film’s departure is Shyamalan leaning into the influences from his Roman Catholic education.
“His changes to the source material favor a view of apocalypse, family, suffering, and self-sacrifice that — to this lapsed Catholic — were familiar,” she writes. “Yet these elements clashed with the world in the first act. Perhaps that was the point. Perhaps Shyamalan is knowingly shepherding his audience away from the world we know, which we insist is rational and within our control, and is trying to enlighten us to a vision that puts more faith in God and his potential for carnage.”
Knock at the Cabin is playing in theatres now. The Cabin at the End of the World is available from all major book stores.