Cover of Cabin at the End of the WorldKnock at the Cabin posterAbout a year ago, I watched the horror movie Knock at the Cabin and thoroughly enjoyed it. When I realized it was based on the novel A Cabin at the End of the World, by Paul G. Tremblay, I had to get the book. I’m a fan of Tremblay’s after reading his A Head Full of Ghosts — one of the spookiest books ever.

Once I read A Cabin at the End of the World, I re-watched the movie. While the movie follows the book very closely for the first two-thirds of the book, the last third diverges dramatically. I think the movie’s ending is more successful.


The story’s premise

Eight-year-old Wen is vacationing with her dads (Daddy Andrew and Daddy Eric) when she’s approached by a kind, but very large, man, Leonard. Leonard befriends Wen until his three acquaintances show up with medieval-era weapons (think scythes and nails protruding from clubs). Wen rushes through the cabin to the back porch to tell her dads, and the three of them barricade themselves in the house.

When the four strangers break their way into the cabin, Daddy Eric suffers a concussion. He wakes to find himself and Daddy Andrew tied to chairs, facing the four strangers. Leonard tells the family they have to sacrifice one of their family members to save humanity (kinda sounds like Paul’s sacrifice in The Devil Particle, doesn’t it?). Of course, Andrew and Eric refuse.

Leonard checks his watch repeatedly. When the appointed time comes and Andrew and Eric have again refused, the strangers kill one of their group members in front of the family. Afterwards, Leonard switches on the TV. There are news reports of an earthquake and resulting tsunami.


Red herrings

Both the book and the movie lead the audience to believe one thing and then another. For instance, there was a massive earthquake and tsunami that killed tens of thousands, but the news reports aired hours before the strangers appeared at the cabin. Leonard had checked his watch as if he already knew about the natural disasters and timed everything accordingly.


The Endings – SPOILERS

In the novel, there’s a struggle and Wen is inadvertently shot and killed. Unfortunately, this doesn’t count as the necessary sacrifice the family must make. Her dads continue to refuse to sacrifice one of them, so Leonard and the others kill themselves and the world appears to self-destruct.

In the movie, Wen is not killed. Daddy Eric, who is religious, believes he’s seen a vision and believes the strangers. The dads still refuse the sacrifice, though Eric is faltering. Once the strangers are all dead, the world starts to self-destruct. Daddy Andrew tells Wen to stay in the treehouse while he and Eric decide what to do. Eric talks Andrew into killing him (though this is done off-screen). When Andrew climbs the treehouse to retrieve Wen, she asks, “Did Daddy Eric save the world?” It’s poignant and heartbreaking.


What I learned

The movie’s screenplay (written by M. Night Shyamalan from a first draft by Steve Desmond and Michael Sherman) turns the protagonists into heroes. They make the ultimate sacrifice to save the world. In the book, Wen’s death is pointless and her dads have only saved themselves. It’s a hollow ending. The movie’s ending is more powerful and memorable — and that’s the kind of ending I’ll strive for in my novels.

Have you read The Cabin at the End of the World and/or seen The Knock at the Cabin? If so, what do you think?

Are there any movies you’ve seen that you think were done better than the book? If so, let me know!


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An ambitious teenager determined to prove his worth. A world bent on self-destruction. Can he win the Vessel Trials and save humanity?

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