‘Knock at the Cabin’ Author Talks M. Night Shyamalan’s Completely Different Take on the Story

Photo Illustration by Kelly Caminero / The Daily Beast / Alamy
Photo Illustration by Kelly Caminero / The Daily Beast / Alamy
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Paul Tremblay has a fun party game he stores in his back pocket. It’s a little twisted, considering he wrote The Cabin at the End of the World, the book upon which M. Night Shymalan’s new horror Knock at the Cabin is based. No, it doesn’t involve asking, “Who would you kill out of your two closest loved ones?” It’s actually a little darker than that.

“What’s the shortlist of movies that are better than the book?” Tremblay asks me ,as we have coffee before his upcoming Q+A session at The Strand in New York City. He tells me he hopes Knock at the Cabin doesn’t fall under this category. “But if it does, hey—what are you going to do? It’s fine.”

Tremblay says Jaws. I agree and add Jurassic Park, one of my favorite movies of all time, but he still makes a strong case for the original Michael Crichton novel. It’s hard for Tremblay to prefer movie adaptations over the original book, however, especially after seeing how the process runs as he worked with Shyamalan on Knock at the Cabin. He’s even been watching The Last of Us with his family and taking more attentive notes on his daughter’s references to the original game, more conscious of how adaptations alter source material.

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The daylight horror film follows the same plot as Tremblay’s 2018 novel—for the most part. Dads Eric (Jonathan Groff) and Andrew (Ben Aldridge) take their daughter Wen (Kristen Cui) to a secluded cabin where they’re forced to make the hardest decision of their lives. A band of four home intruders led by Leonard (Dave Bautista) tell them they must kill one of their trio or the world will end. Every so often, one of the four intruders will be killed, triggering a step forward in the apocalypse—unless Eric, Andrew, or Wen murder their loved ones.

(Warning: Spoilers ahead for the endings of Knock at the Cabin and The Cabin at the End of the World.)

The ending, however, is where the movie diverges from the book. In the movie’s ending, Andrew agrees to kill Eric, so that he and Wen can live a full life together. Plus, the apocalypse is really happening, as we can see from big tsunamis, lightning bolts, an ongoing influenza, and thousands of plane crashes.

In the book, Wen is accidentally killed when a gun goes off. But because killing a child is far too dark for a studio film, Knock at the Cabin keeps Wen alive. The fate of humanity, however, is more up in the air in Tremblay’s novel. Andrew and Eric decide to ignore their captors’ pleas for them to sacrifice themselves, rejecting the notion that there’s a higher power who will trade one of their lives for those of the rest of humankind. And while Tremblay thinks the movie’s ending is actually darker than his, viewers and critics (including some of our own) have disagreed.

‘Knock at the Cabin’ Could Have Had an Even More Shocking Ending

“These two men are like, ‘In spite of what we’re living through, all these terrible things are happening to us and around us, but we’re going to stand up and say this is wrong. This is immoral. This should not be happening,’” Tremblay says. “They say, ‘Go fuck yourself,’ essentially. I find that hopeful.”

Below, Tremblay chats with The Daily Beast’s Obsessed about why he prefers his original ending, the omission of his name in the film’s promotional material, and what’s really the biggest difference between his and Shyamalan’s adaptation of the source material.

Let’s start with the ending. What was your reaction when you found out the final scenes of the novel would be changed for the film?

I first found out in November of 2021, when I had my first phone call with Night. It was great. I appreciate that he was upfront in telling me, in broad strokes, what was going to change between the book and the movie. I knew then that it was going to be, pretty much: There’s something happening, and one of the dads will sacrifice the other. I had all that knowledge with me before I saw the movie, but seeing it is different than reading it on the page.

I saw some people saying online, “After you see Knock at the Cabin, don’t even try to think about what you’d do in that situation yourself. This would never happen!” Do you think people should try placing themselves in the characters’ shoes?

For Night, that was the draw for him—the question. What would you do? When I met with him on set, he was like, “I jokingly told my family: Alright, who are we going to [sacrifice]?” Like, jeez, Dad!

I guess for me, with the book, the choice was there. It felt that it was a little bit more—I don’t want to say complex, but it felt like the story was more than just that choice. The book became: I don’t care whether or not the apocalypse was happening. It was all going to be about the choice Andrew and Eric were going to make. It was a metaphor for what we were living through, as opposed to, “Are we going to save the world or not?” [It’s] the idea of rejecting fear and cruelty and hate for a little bit of hope.

<div class="inline-image__caption"><p>Paul Tremblay.</p></div> <div class="inline-image__credit">Photo Illustration Kelly Caminero / The Daily Beast / Alamy</div>

Paul Tremblay.

Photo Illustration Kelly Caminero / The Daily Beast / Alamy

I’ve seen publications calling your ending “darker” than the movie’s, including our own. In your recent interview with the L.A. Times, you said the opposite. Why do you think this divide is happening?

I think people see my ending as darker because Wen died. That doesn’t happen at the end [of the film]. It’s undoubtedly super dark, but I think a lot of people are interpreting, “Oh, these two men said no. Now, the world’s going to be over.” I never said that’s the ending. It’s up to your interpretation. But I purposefully divorced myself from thinking about whether or not the apocalypse is happening when I wrote it. I wanted the evidence to be equal on both sides. My ending is defiantly hopeful.

Whereas in Night’s movie, when I first saw it, I felt so horrified and scared. I felt so sad for Andrew and Wen. Not only did they just decide to kill Eric, but how are they going to live with the knowledge that this incredibly cruel supreme being of the universe put them through that? I don’t find that hopeful at all.

Was keeping Wen alive a bigger change to your story than the movie’s new ending?

M. Night has talked fairly openly about how once he read that she died, he was like, “No, I can’t. That’s it.” For him, the stakes weren’t there any more—I felt the stakes were there. For me, one of the points behind her awful, accidental death, is that it makes the decision harder for both sides. In the book, the invaders that are left are horrified about: What is it that we’re doing if her death doesn’t count as a sacrifice?

In that same L.A. Times piece, you mentioned that The Cabin at the End of the World was partly inspired by the Trump administration feeling, to you, like an apocalypse. Luckily, that’s over. Do you think this movie will resonate with apocalyptic fears in the future?

It’s a great question. In the late ’80s, nuclear war was one of my biggest fears and something that still really upsets me. I can’t usually watch movies or read books that involve that, because it’s too much for me. Part of Cabin was my fear of the apocalypse. The reason I wanted to leave [the ending] ambiguous was to reinforce the idea that, “Hey, every time you turn on the TV or look at your phone, or look at your feed, it feels like the world is ending.” This is just how we live.

Did Trump’s presidency manifest itself in your novel?

The character Redmond in the book [Rupert Grint in the film] is really—in anything I’ve written, I usually don’t have “villains,” I usually try to make [readers] empathize with them. You want to understand why they’re doing what they’re doing. Redmond’s probably the only all bad, mustache-twisting villain that I’ve ever written.

His name, “Jeff O’Bannon”—if that’s his real name—I was playing with Steve Bannon’s name and Trump’s first attorney general, Jeff Sessions. When I was writing, Trump decided to defund most of the WHO early action sort of stuff. What I mention in the book is that, as they’re watching the news, there’s a bird flu. I partly wanted to not go overboard and be too didactic, but I also didn’t want to go overboard naming specific religions, too. I wanted to keep it somewhat open-ended or say things out there in the general culture that could be applied to a number of different belief systems.

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It’s not just the ending—the title was changed, too. Why was that?

That was all Night. He told me right away that this was what it was. I like mine better. I can see it’s close to The Cabin in the Woods [the 2012 comedy horror film from Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon]. At the same time, Knock at the Cabin is grammatically incorrect. I wouldn’t have changed the title. I can’t say for sure, because no one said this to me, but Night tends to like surprises. If they have the same title, it’s kind of obvious.

Would you prefer that people read the book first and then watch the movie? Or does the order not matter to you?

As long as they read the book! The truth of it is, and it’s a weird thing—I’ve talked to other people who’ve been through the adaptation part of it—movies and television have been the dominant cultural force for a long time. Especially in comparison to books. A movie like this, so many more people are going to see the movie than read the book. It’s the greatest problem in the world to have. But it’s a little weird to have this story out there, and have so much of it be the same—but in places, different.

A lot of your fans were up in arms over the fact that neither you nor your novel were credited in the trailer or the posters for Knock at the Cabin. You also shared a tweet about the poster missing your name. Why do you think your fans jumped to your defense so vocally?

When the first trailers were put out, some people were like, “Hey, why isn’t [Paul] being credited?” It was a typical online argument where everyone’s an expert in things they’re not versed in. I’ll admit, that [tweet] was pandering to some of my readers. I’m very thankful that my readers who connected with that book—there were a lot who didn’t like that book—really liked it. I was glad to see they were so vociferous about letting people know, “Hey! This is his book.”

Did you want your name to be included in the marketing?

Yeah, it doesn’t need to be huge. Old-school posters used to have the billing block on them [with] all the names. In modern-day Hollywood, that’s a workaround for some places, to not include everything. At the same time, as I was going through the adaptation experience and reaching out to other people to talk about their [adaptations], I heard unbelievable horror stories. I’m not going to say, because they’re not mine. But some of the biggest writers you can imagine—like, man, why does it have to be that way? Publishing is money-driven, but coming from publishing to Hollywood, you see it’s even more money-driven. All writers should go in with their eyes open to that process.

Would you ever agree to a Knock at the Cabin movie sequel?

I honestly would have to look at my contract to see if I have any say. Typically, I don’t. I would get certain money if there’s a sequel. But I’m not a series or sequel person.

What’s next for you?

I just finished a draft of a novel that’ll be out in 2024 called Horror Movie: A Novel. I started it before I visited the set, but there’s definitely some…stuff. It’s about a movie that didn’t quite get made in the ’90s, and they’re trying to reboot it now. There’s a little bit of satire on the Hollywood experience. Close to Cabin, it’s kind of grim. [Laughs]

Did you base any of it on what you saw at the Knock at the Cabin set?

Some of it. I think it was more from experience—meeting with producers. For the most part, the producers I’ve worked with have been great. But I've done a ton of pitch meetings that go nowhere. Sometimes, those conversations are bizarre.

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