Knock at the Cabin (2023)

FEBRUARY 2, 2023


I hadn't gotten ten feet from my seat on the way out of Knock at the Cabin before hearing someone complaining about what it changed from the book (Paul Tremblay's The Cabin at the End of the World; another thing people have been whining about since it's not mentioned in the marketing*), a conversation I made sure not to overhear by speedwalking away. Because I haven't read it yet, and I'm sure it's probably a better version of the story and would like to experience it for myself - with the added bonus of having a memory of enjoying a 90 minute movie. I rarely find my memories retroactively ruined by this sort of thing; I've read lots of books after seeing their adaptations and never once decided that the movie was no longer appealing to me.

It's something that's bugged me for years, why people will go to movies based on books they loved as if there was some possibility that they would be word for word adaptations and then get angry when things are changed or omitted. There are very few examples of a movie IMPROVING on a book (Jaws, Godfather... uh... maybe Fletch since Chevy's version doesn't have sex with an underage hooker?), but there's also a subconscious element that may explain why people get so offended at changes: a book is something you have a longer connection to. You carry it around to multiple locations, you spend weeks with it, you re-read passages when you're nearly dozing off or skim paragraphs that are describing something like the character's dinner (shoutout to Game of Thrones readers there). There's a bond of sorts, one you don't really make with a movie (especially in a theater) that you just sit down and watch in one go, without rewind or fast forward capabilities at your disposal. That lack of connection is why it's easier to criticize a movie than a book, I think - the movie is changing something you've had this sort of HISTORY with.

All that's a long way of explaining that because I haven't read the book, I don't know (and at this point, don't care) what it changed. All I know is that it was a very tight and effective little thriller from M. Night Shyamalan, thankfully free of his sometimes crippling flaws as a filmmaker (OK, he still makes a little cameo, but it's fine) and - spoiler of sorts? - devoid of twists, too. The plot is almost unnervingly simple and devastating in equal measures: a group of seemingly normal people, led by Leonard (Dave Bautista) show up at the rented cabin of two men named Andrew and Eric and their adopted daughter Wen, and tell them that they've had visions of the end of the world, visions which so far have all become true, and the only way to stop it from getting worse will be if one of them chooses to kill one of their other family members.

Naturally, they all refuse and think Leonard to be crazy, but each time they refuse he puts on the TV and shows them that the world does indeed seem to be ending, with the news showing breaking reports of fast-acting viruses, earthquakes (and subsequent tsunamis), plane crashes... there's no proof that going through with his request will actually stop anything, but as time goes on they have more and more trouble chalking things up to coincidence or fakery. So it comes down to faith, and a "simple" idea: if you thought doing something drastic would save your child's life, wouldn't you take it, no matter what? I know I would, and I know my wife would too - hell she'd barely even hesitate, if her reaction to similar scenarios in other movies is any indication (whenever there's a zombie movie where someone is bit and asks for their friend/loved one to shoot them before they turn, she is angry that there's any kind of delay on the shooter's part).

Anyway, that's pretty much it for the movie's narrative. A few flashbacks tell us the love story of Andrew and Eric, and there's a kind of beautiful strategy to them, as nearly all of them feature some kind of "this is what gay men have to deal with" moment: a disapproving parent, a lie to help the adoption process (Eric tells the lady that Andrew is his "wife's brother"), a hate crime... with the one exception being the trio's trip to the cabin itself, which is full of love and happiness and (obviously) acceptance. So without leaving the cabin and its tense situation for long (and also, without delaying their arrival there - the movie begins with Leonard approaching Wen), we get some backstory and an easy reminder of why the choice is so hard: the three of them have only really known happiness when they're together, and why should they put that at risk for a world that doesn't accept them? (Wen has a cleft lip and is Asian, so while neither is explored much, we can easily guess she's had her own experiences with being "the other".)

Shyamalan and his writers (including Tremblay; I do own the book and read the first few pages after seeing the movie, and it's nearly identical so far) do a fine job of balancing everything out: the character work, the suspense, and the end of the world scenarios that we see on TV (though I'm kind of confused how we saw footage of someone filming the tidal wave and then getting swamped by it - I guess it was a livestream? There was no tell-tale overlay of emojis and "Friendbook" kind of fake social media header to signify it as such). Jonathan Groff and Ben Aldridge give excellent performances while spending 75% of the movie tied to chairs, and the script never distracts away from the situation with dumb things we know won't go anywhere (like a neighbor showing up and forcing them to act natural, a hallmark of the home invasion genre that is blissfully absent here). There's a bit of a contrivance involving one of Leonard's team (I know the plot point originated in the book, though I'm not sure if the conclusion is the same) that seems to exist only to stretch Andrew's disbelief in the entire thing (Eric starts to believe Leonard is right at around the halfway point, while Andrew is more stubborn), but I'll allow it if it was the lesser of two evils (the other being one of the aforementioned distractions that such stories almost always have).

Unlike The Happening, where it was part of the marketing (!), not much has been made of the film's R rating, and honestly I don't think it needed it, as it's pretty much entirely for language. Most of the film's violent moments occur off-screen, and while they are grim/tense moments, I feel they could have gotten a PG-13 if not for the F-bombs making it impossible. But regarding the dialogue, I'm happy to report that the foul language just adds to my happy surprise that this is among the least alien-sounding of Shyamalan's films. I've said many times in the past that the filmmaker needed to share scripting duties with someone, because while his direction is always top notch he doesn't always have the best ear for dialogue, which can result in some howlers that derail an otherwise solid scene (or the entire film in Happening's case, but Old had some howlers too). But I can't think of a single line here that sounded like it was being delivered by someone who never spoke to another human being before, so good on you, gents.

Long story short, if you're a die-hard fan of the book who can't accept changes, you should probably steer clear (while looking up the thing about Leonard's teammate I inadvertently caught wind of another major plot point that definitely does not happen in the movie). But if you haven't read it or you're just fine with seeing a different interpretation of the plot, I think you'll enjoy it on the strength of its intriguing scenario and nailbiter suspense alone. Perhaps it doesn't have much rewatchability (beyond appreciating the performances; Bautista is terrific and hopefully continues having the interesting career we once thought Dwayne Johnson would have before he appointed himself the biggest star in the world and stopped making anything good) since so much of it revolves around the question of whether or not the men will believe Leonard (and if Leonard's belief turns out to be correct), but that's fine. Not every movie has to be something you want to watch over and over at the expense of experiencing new things. Like reading books!

What say you?

*Which has been utterly bizarre to me, as outside of Stephen King-level titans, the authors are rarely mentioned in the movie's marketing. "Based on the best selling novel" type language (without the author) is common, but I couldn't find any evidence of Tremblay's novel hitting the NY Times bestseller list or anything like that (though it did win some prestigious awards!). So, along with the name change, it seems like it's just the usual thing of marketing highlighting what will entice people (i.e. the name of the guy who made Sixth Sense), but people seem to think it's like an intentional slight on Tremblay for some reason. The posters tout Shyamalan's name, as they usually do, but again this is pretty much standard when it comes to major filmmakers who are adapting average-selling novels. Even Ready Player One (which WAS a NY Times bestseller, god knows why) didn't mention Ernie Cline or any kind of "based on the book" language on most of the posters and such, only Spielberg's name was highlighted. I'm not saying I agree with it - I'm all for giving credit - but the sentiment seems to be that there's something insidious about it, and it bothers me. If you're gonna yell at Shyamalan, yell at the dozens of other directors (or, more likely, the people marketing their movies) for doing the same thing. My guess is, due to the usual secretive nature of Shyamalan's films, having an easily available book out there would deflate some of the mystery, so they saw no need to tell people who might not even know about the book that they could find out all of its secrets early. Tremblay is fully credited on the film, and they've put out a tie-in edition that, if the movie is a hit, will likely give him a huge boost in sales of this and his other work. So what's the problem, exactly? Just people complaining because they have nothing better to do, I suspect. /end rant.


  1. If I hadn’t read the book, I think I’d feel the same as you about the movie. But I have to admit I was not happy with it. Minor changes to a book are one thing but this cut out, in my view, the heart of the story and made it something totally different. I guess there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. I just wasn’t prepared, and I think the book’s story is better. Enjoyed your review though! I’m a big fan of your blog and book :)

  2. I haven’t read the book yet but certainly will soon as clearly there is an interesting story here. But I found the film to be turgid sadly and I like a lot of M Night’s films. I didn’t feel any tension at all and I should have done. The daughter was a completely unnecessary character and probably should have been written out. A shame this one sadly.


Movie & TV Show Preview Widget