‘Knock at the Cabin’ ending explained: How the M. Night Shyamalan twist differs from the book

Let’s unpack that M. Night Shyamalan big finish.

Nick Romano

By Nick Romano February 03, 2023 at 07:02 PM EST

Knock at the Cabin Trailer

Knock at the Cabin

Warning: This article contains spoilers about Knock at the Cabin.

With another M. Night Shyamalan movie comes another Shyamalan twist. Following Glass, Old, and the latest episodes of Servant, Knock at the Cabin delivers a story that’s meant to keep audiences guessing until its climactic ending.

Based on Paul G. Tremblay’s 2018 novel The Cabin at the End of the World, the film sees husbands Andrew (Ben Aldridge) and Eric (Jonathan Groff) vacationing at a lakeside cabin in the woods with their daughter, Wen (Kristen Cui), when the unthinkable happens. Four strangers — a large, spectacled elementary school teacher named Leonard (Dave Bautista), a seemingly kind-hearted cook named Ardiane (Abby Quinn), a conflicted nurse named Sabrina (Nikki Amuka-Bird), and a rough-and-tumble man named Redmond (Rupert Grint) — invade their lodging.

The men are tied up and presented with a cruel task: choose a member of their family to sacrifice. The strangers promise they won’t make the decision for them, but they will not allow any of them to leave the premises until a decision has been made. If the family does not pick a sacrifice, the kidnappers are convinced the world will come to an end.

Are they lying or is the world really on the brink of the apocalypse? Below, we break down what happens in the ending and how it differs from the book.

Knock at the Cabin

Ben Aldridge, Jonathan Groff, and Kristen Cui star as a terrorized family in ‘Knock at the Cabin’

| Credit: Universal Pictures

The entire movie is meant to keep the audience guessing. The strangers claim that one family is chosen every so often to decide the fate of all of humanity. They guess Andrew and Eric were chosen because of the immense love they share for each other and their daughter. Collective visions have seemingly brought these four disparate individuals together to deliver the challenge.

Each time Andrew and Eric refuse to make the sacrifice, the strangers kill one of their own with “tools” they’ve built, again based on visions they claim to have had. They start with Redmond and work their way up to Leonard. Each death is meant to unleash a plague upon the world.

Andrew, a lawyer, is the more logical one of the family who has a reasonable answer for the strangers’ Biblical rantings. When Redmond is killed, Leonard turns on the TV to watch a tsunami kill thousands off the California coast. Andrew points out that the news broadcast was previously recorded and believes their kidnappers are keeping track of the time to coincide a death with a news broadcast. They are all just deluded conspiracy theorists who found purpose in shady internet chatrooms, he claims.

Eric, however, is more empathetic and subject to suggestion. He was also concussed when the strangers first attacked them, which may or may not account for the visions he sees throughout the film, that of a human figure glimpsed within the light.

The family continues to watch the strangers kill themselves and supposed plagues play out on television broadcasts, not fully knowing if they are real or not. All planes currently in flight fall from the sky, a mysterious virus (not COVID) rapidly spreads around the globe, and devastating lighting strikes scorch the planet without warning.

Knock at the Cabin

Dave Bautista, Abby Quinn, and Nikki Amuka-Bird in ‘Knock at the Cabin’

| Credit: Universal Pictures

While it seems like the family might make it out of this alive, it becomes time for Leonard to kill himself. Before he does, he warns the men that after he’s gone they have mere moments to make a sacrifice before they are forced to roam an apocalyptic hellscape with Wen as the only surviving human left on the planet. Eric, now believing the strangers were really the four horsemen of the apocalypse, convinces Andrew to shoot him dead to save his family and the rest of mankind.

Upon leaving the cabin with Eric’s corpse inside, Andrew and Wen observe a world that seems like it has been scarred by the plagues. Andrew spots at least one plane fall from the sky, and the dark clouds that have gathered above have mysteriously dispersed. They arrive at a nearby diner and find the entire establishment has been watching the same news feeds they viewed with bated breath, only now the relieved anchors are reporting that the aforementioned plagues are easing up without an apparent cause.

The events play out rather differently in Tremblay’s book. First of all, Wen dies from an accidental gunshot during a scuffle with Leonard in the cabin. The strangers claim that her death doesn’t count because the family didn’t willingly choose her as the sacrifice. Choice wasn’t a factor. The outcome of this sequence is completely left out of the movie.

There are also some cosmetic changes. For instance, Andrew kills Adriane with the gun from his car in the book, while he ends up killing Sabrina with the pistol in the movie. But the biggest change beyond Wen’s death is how the movie interprets the ending.

The Cabin at the End of the World leaves the reader to draw their own conclusion. The fathers, mourning the loss of their child, refuse to kill each other. Instead, they drive away from the cabin with Wen’s body in the back towards an uncertain future. The film decides to take a more definitive approach and say the strangers were the heralds of the apocalypse, and Eric’s choice to sacrifice himself saved billions of lives.

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Knock at the Cabin Trailer

Knock at the Cabin

While on vacation, a girl and her parents are taken hostage by armed strangers who force them to make an impossible decision to stave off the apocalypse.

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