Young Wen is catching grasshoppers outside the cabin when Leonard arrives. She knows she isn’t supposed to talk to strangers, but Leonard seems nice enough. But that’s when Leonard admits something.
“My heart is broken because of what I have to do today,” he tells her.
That’s when his friends arrive, each holding their own makeshift weapons. Wen rushes inside and alerts her two dads, Eric and Andrew. They hunker down and try to call the police.
“Sorry,” a woman’s voice apologetically says. “We had to cut the phone line.”
It’s not long before the four attackers have made their way into the cabin and tied Eric and Andrew up. That’s when Leonard begins his speech.
“Families throughout history have been chosen to make this decision. Your family must choose to willingly sacrifice one of the three of you to prevent the apocalypse. For every no you give us, hundreds of thousands of people are going to die.”
Eric and Andrew demonstrate genuine love and care for their adopted daughter. They always look for ways to protect Wen, whether that’s by helping her escape or shielding her eyes from horrific sights.
The four attackers here aren’t depicted as villainous murderers. Instead, they believe that what they’re doing is necessary to save the world. Following their initial attack, they do what they can to show Eric and Andrew their genuine grief.
Obviously, the film’s premise centers around needing a human sacrifice (presumably to a god) in order to prevent the apocalypse. Each attacker references having had visions that led them to each other and the cabin. They’ve also had visions of the apocalypse, and when certain moments occur, they gasp, shocked that what they saw in the vision is actually coming to pass.
As these religious zealots continue their ritual, they exclaim that “part of humanity has been judged,” and claim that the sacrifice is in order to atone for the “sins of humanity.” We’re told that such a sacrifice has been decided by families all throughout human history. Leonard says that God’s fingers will come down to “squash the Earth” if no sacrifice is given.
The whole thing is hard to process, which is why Sabrina, one of the attackers, tells Eric that she actually left the church long ago, believing religion to be just for a time when people were scared of things. But after she had her visions, she realized that there was something bigger than herself out in the universe. Regardless, she understands if Eric still thinks she’s a “religious freak.”
A hospital mural depicts Jesus playing soccer with children. We hear a reference to the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse from Revelation. Initially, Eric and Andrew believe the strangers are just Jehovah’s Witnesses. And after they attack, Andrew calls them “faith doomsayers.”
Eric and Andrew are gay, and a portion of the film revolves around society’s reaction to their attraction to one another. In flashbacks, we see that Andrew’s parents meet Eric in uncomfortable silence, and the two pretend that Andrew is married to a woman in order to adopt a baby from a religious organization.
Andrew is convinced that the attack on them is homophobic in nature—a claim that the attackers dispute. Leonard later comments that he believes the “family was chosen because [their] love is so pure.” Wen talks about how she’s annoyed because her guidance counselor keeps telling her how great it is that she has two dads.
In an attempt to convince Eric and Andrew that the attackers’ claims about death and apocalypse are warranted, Leonard turns on the TV to various news reports (which Andrew believes have been prerecorded). One shows people on a beach being crushed by a massive tsunami. In another, we see people suffering from a disease; we’re told it has affected children in particular. We also see planes falling from the sky and exploding.
People are slashed, stabbed and shot. Though much of the carnage occurs just offscreen, we catch glimpses of the aftermath. Someone is hit in the head with weapons. One person’s corpse is hit with an axe. Another person’s throat is slit, and we see the resulting injury. Someone is stabbed in the leg and side. A man suffers a concussion. After being beaten, attacker Redmond’s face is covered in blood, and he mentions how his father used to hit him.
In a flashback, Andrew gets hit over the head with a bottle by an intoxicated man, presumably a hate crime because Andrew is gay. We see surgeons operating on his skull afterwards, though little blood or gore is seen.
We glimpse drawn images of apocalyptic scenes. Another attacker talks of the trauma she’s dealt with because of her visions. She describes how she sees her son burning alive at the end of the world. She and the other attackers agree that the worst part of their violent visions are the guttural screams they hear.
The f-word is used nearly 25 times, and the s-word is heard four times. We hear single instances each of “a–,” “b–ch,” “d-ck,” “h—” and “b–tard.” “Crap” is used twice. God’s name is abused seven times, including one pairing with “d–n.” Jesus’ name is taken in vain twice. Someone is called a “bigot.”
Redmond mentions liking beer. An intoxicated man confronts Eric and Andrew in a bar.
Leonard vomits offscreen. Wen references to a girl in Wen’s class who passes gas frequently.
“The end is near,” a doomsayer exclaims as the civilized folk walk by rolling their eyes. “Ah, just another one of the crazies,” they say, brushing off the dark prophecy. Besides, the man certainly looks crazy, sporting the signature disheveled hair, dirty clothes and distinct smell of a dumpster. He’s not exactly the kind of person you’d see reporting the evening news.
But what if it wasn’t just one doomsayer, but four? What if they all looked like pretty normal people? What if, other than their statements about the end times, they spoke pretty rationally? What if they all corroborated their stories and alleged visions of the Day of Wrath? And what if news outlets started to report the disasters they predicted?
Are they just a well-organized cult, prerecording news to gain followers and make a point? Or could they really be normal people who’ve been given visions of an incoming apocalypse?
Knock at the Cabin doesn’t stray far from its physical cabin setting. Protagonists Eric and Andrew can’t: They’ve been tied up. But it may surprise viewers that the movie stays focused on answering those apocalyptic questions. That’s especially true, considering that director M. Night Shyamalan is known for being someone who drags his viewers through twists and turns, revealing layer after layer of what’s really happening. In that regard, it’s a strangely refreshing turn of events for a Shyamalan plot—even one that centers on a threat of world-ending stakes—to be relatively simple.
Despite all of that, however, Knock at the Cabin comes with quite a few knocks of its own. Though the worst of the violence is committed offscreen, we’ll still catches glimpses of the bloody aftermath. Our protagonists are a pair of married men. And, of course, there’s the spiritual component of an unknown pagan god demanding a human sacrifice, lest it destroy the world.
Shyamalan’s decades-long direction of supernatural thrillers has both captivated and disappointed audiences, with critical scores ranging from overwhelmingly positive to decisively negative. So while you may be tempted to invite Knock at the Cabin inside when its knuckles rap upon your door, you might want to consider keeping it locked out.
Though he was born in Kansas, Kennedy Unthank studied journalism at the University of Missouri. He knew he wanted to write for a living when he won a contest for “best fantasy story” while in the 4th grade. What he didn’t know at the time, however, was that he was the only person to submit a story. Regardless, the seed was planted. Kennedy collects and plays board games in his free time, and he loves to talk about biblical apologetics and hermeneutics. He doesn’t think the ending of Lost was “that bad.”