Few things in film over the last two decades are as synonymous as M. Night Shyamalan and twist endings. Even as the director has moved away from the earth-shattering, movie-defining twists that shaped his early films like The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, and The Village, he couldn’t entirely resist a few eleventh-hour swings in movies like 2016’s Split or 2021’s Old. But in his latest movie, Knock at the Cabin, Shyamalan finds one of his smartest and best twists yet by engaging with his own reputation.
[Ed. note: End spoilers ahead for Knock at the Cabin.]
What is Knock at the Cabin about?
Knock at the Cabin adapts a 2018 novel by Paul Tremblay, The Cabin at the End of the World. The book and movie both tell the story of a couple and their young daughter on vacation in a rural rental cabin, until four people in a doomsday cult break in and claim that the family must sacrifice one member or the world will end. The longer the family takes to decide who has to die, the more tragedies will befall the Earth, including earthquakes, tsunamis, and plagues. Or at least that’s what the cult members claim.
While a bit of doubt in claims like these is only natural, Shyamalan’s movie version smartly sides with the cult members, never making them silly or too ridiculous (thanks in large part to an excellent, career-best performance by Guardians of the Galaxy and Army of the Dead star Dave Bautista). Their deadly seriousness and conviction gives credibility to their claims, and most importantly, makes the family’s doubts — particularly the anger coming from hot-headed Andrew (Ben Aldridge) — seem more misguided than the four weapon-wielding weirdos claiming the world is going to end.
How does Knock at the Cabin end?
But Shyamalan, in another excellent decision, doesn’t let the audience see these apocalyptic events firsthand. Instead, he has us glance at them through cable news broadcasts, sometimes live and sometimes prerecorded. Similarly, he leaves out any flashbacks to the visions the cult members say they saw, and lets them slip in the fact that they initially met on an internet forum. All this gives the cult members and their message an air of doubt that lends the movie its uneasy, gripping tension.
By making the end of the world seem so clearly at hand, Shyamalan uses his own reputation against viewers, daring the audience to anticipate an “everything was fake the whole time” twist they might think they see coming from a mile away. Then the expected twist never arrives. In fact, there is no twist. The end of the movie arrives with a harrowing rainless thunderstorm that threatens to set the entire Earth on fire, just like the cultists said it would. And we find out that the world really was going to end, except that Eric (Jonathan Groff) really does save everyone by choosing to sacrifice himself. It’s exactly the sincere and earnest movie about love and sacrifice that it seemed to be the whole time.
Is Knock at the Cabin good?
Like many of Shyamalan’s other movies, Knock at the Cabin is going to be divisive specifically because of that ending. By playing toward the idea of a fake-out twist for the entire movie, then never delivering the twist, he keeps the ending from feeling final — there’s a sense right up to the final moments that another emotional shoe is still left to drop.
For some, that lack of closure could just represent the characters’ lingering grief over what they’ve lost, even if that loss does prevent the end of the world. For others, it may just come off as unsatisfying, given how many unanswered questions are left behind at the end. But no matter where you fall on that spectrum, Knock at the Cabin still has the kind of odd-feeling, fascinating, and ambiguous ending that only Shyamalan and his 20-plus-year reputation for final-act twists could have earned.
Does Knock at the Cabin have a post-credits scene?
No. That final moment between Wen and Eric wraps up the movie, leaving more time for viewers to discuss what they just saw, and what it means.