There are a couple of things you need to know about the most recent M. Night Shyamalan film, Knock at the Cabin, which sees the director continuing to prove he has more stories to tell. The first is that it features a career-best performance from Dave Bautista as the soft-spoken Leonard who breaks into the home of a vacationing family and tells them that they will have to make the choice to sacrifice one of themselves to prevent a supposedly foretold doomsday. The second is that it is an adaptation that makes a series of rather significant alterations to the source material, Paul G. Tremblay’s The Cabin at the End of the World, to arrive at a conclusion that, at least at first glance, seems vastly different from the original.

However, there is something still intriguing that remains in what Shyamalan chooses to focus on. In case it wasn’t already clear, this piece is going to delve into detail about the ending and spoil all of what comes to pass. In the event that you haven’t seen the film, best bookmark this page and get on that now. If you have, join us as we dive headfirst into the end of the world.

As some background, the film is essentially a parable that initially centers on the young Wen (Kristen Cui) who is on vacation at a remote cabin with her parents Eric (Jonathan Groff) and Andrew (Ben Aldridge) without much of a care in the world. That all changes when Leonard arrives with his fellow believers Redmond (Rupert Grint), Sabrina (Nikki Amuka-Bird), and Ardiane (Abby Quinn) who all proceed to break into the cabin. They tie up Eric and Andrew before presenting them with a sinister choice: sacrifice one of yourselves to prevent the end of the world that will kill countless others.

Andrew vehemently rejects this choice, saying that he doesn’t believe them and that they wouldn’t do it anyway as this is not right to place this upon their shoulders. When he does so, Leonard, Sabrina, and Ardiane proceed to brutally kill Redmond in front of them. They then turn on the television to show a tsunami hitting the West Coast as supposed proof that this is real. Over the course of the next several hours, the remaining three will also die and leave the family all alone as the world seems to be getting worse. Eric and Andrew then desperately discuss what it is they should do, eventually arriving at an understanding that culminates in a tragedy that the entire film had been building to.

Having gotten a concussion in the initial scuffle at the cabin and being more devout than Andrew, Eric has come to believe that he must indeed die to save the world. Where the book saw Wen die from a gunshot that accidentally went off, this final death takes place intentionally. After sending their daughter away, Eric convinces Andrew that this is supposedly the only way and that he must do it. We hear a gunshot and then everything begins to calm down. Andrew goes to get Wen and the two drive to a nearby diner where they observe that the catastrophes have all seemed to abate. Be it the planes falling from the sky or the plague that had been raging out of control, everything seems to be returning to business as usual.

Andrew and Wen then get back in their vehicle only for the song they had played on the way to their vacation to come back on. Each takes turns shutting it off and then on again, silently hurting for the loss of their loved one before eventually driving away into a world without him. The moment, while seemingly more straightforward than the ending of the novel where it was Eric and Andrew who walked off into the world without any sense of whether it would be destroyed, also has a couple of different layers of thematic tension that are worth digging into.

The first is that, even as it seems the sacrifice may have possibly worked, there is no way to know that for certain. Andrew had repeatedly expressed skepticism about the circumstances surrounding the series of disasters and his arguments about their occurrences cast plenty of doubt on whether they were anything more than just a coincidence. That Eric was the one to believe it was all true was understandable considering his own history, but that doesn’t mean that his demise really was the key to stopping it all. Life is full of unexplainable catastrophes and making sense of that by finding a neat narrative for it is a classic coping technique.

The tragedy that Andrew and Wen have experienced is twofold. Not only have they lost someone they loved deeply, but it may have actually all been for naught. It is just as possible that they could have ridden out the storm together and discovered that none of it was something they could stop. For all the ways Shyamalan gestures at this being what had to be done, which has led some to bemoan how it may smooth over the ambiguity of the book, the final scene of the two remaining family members trying to figure out how to carry on complicates this. The terrifying possibility that all this death was caused by delusion and didn’t need to happen at all is felt in the grim silence that looms large over the entire closing.

The second layer is in regards to what Andrew said near the very beginning in rejecting the choice posed by their captors. Say that the world really was going to end and that the only way to stop it was by sacrificing themselves, is that something that they should ever be expected to really do? Sure, in a purely utilitarian calculus, one could easily say yes. But a recurring element to the story was about how putting all this at the feet of a single family, especially this one in particular, was not right.

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