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What is Knock at the Cabin about?
Knock at the Cabin (an adaptation of the 2018 novel The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul G. Tremblay) is a film about moving forward in the face of adversity. In the case of Eric and Andrew, they face discrimination out in the real world as a same-sex couple raising a daughter. In particular, Andrew seems to be struggling with their situation: he had to attend extensive therapy sessions after Redmond attacked him in a bar years earlier; his parents greatly disapprove of he and Eric’s relationship; and as a human rights lawyer, he witnesses hate and discrimination on a daily basis. His entire life and career has been infected by the hate of the world, and it’s clear that he’s having trouble reckoning with that reality.
This dynamic is the emotional impetus for the entire film. You could view the remote cabin in the woods as a metaphor for escape: out here, Eric and Andrew can escape with Wen into the wilderness away from civilization. Anybody who has suffered an existential crisis, who feels out of place in an unseemly and unjust world can relate. We can fight for change all we want—but the world can beat us down so viciously that the desire to escape can overtake our being. Eventually, though, we must come back out. We can’t hide forever.
And sometimes other must help us realize that. As the Four Horsemen of Apocalypse, Leonard, Sabrina, Adriane, and Redmond epitomize the fear Andrew has for his family. As a gay man, he and his partner and his daughter are targets for hate and destruction. Allegorically, these four mysterious beings force Andrew to confront the hate, and the apocalypse forces him to face the destruction—if he can’t learn to move past his trauma and continue to fight for change, then, metaphorically, his world will end.
But Eric presents the promise of a better future. We can be forever tied down by hate and fear…or we recognize that there’s enough hope and love around us to help us move forward. Andrew has to accept Eric’s vision of the future: that Andrew will grow old and raise a daughter who is smart and capable and happy, who represents all the good parts of her fathers. Andrew can’t see it until Eric helps him see it. But as soon as he does, he’s emotionally ready to put an end to apocalypse, to restore order to the world and be ready to confront it once again.
Movie Guide table of contents
- Dave Bautista – Leonard
- Jonathan Groff – Eric
- Ben Aldridge – Andrew
- Nikki Amuka-Bird – Sabrina
- Kristen Cui – Wen
- Abby Quinn – Adriane
- Rupert Grint – Redmond
- M. Night Shyamalan – Writer, director, infomercial host
The ending of Knock at the Cabin explained
A recap of Knock at the Cabin‘s ending
After Andrew shoots Sabrina, Leonard then sacrifices her with his weapon. The apocalypse now appears imminent, as airplanes continue to fall from the sky. Leonard then takes Eric, Andrew, and Wen out onto the back deck where he will sacrifice himself. Eric and Andrew ask Wen to run and hide in the treehouse. Leonard says that once he’s dead, Eric and Andrew will still have a few minutes left to sacrifice themselves before the apocalypse takes hold. Leonard then takes his own life.
After Leonard’s death, more airplanes crash, lightning bolts strike trees, and the sky ominously darkens. At this point, both Eric and Andrew are convinced the apocalypse is happening—but Andrew is still hesitant to make a sacrifice. He can’t fathom a world where he, Eric, and Wen aren’t all together. However, Eric seems more determined. He believes that Leonard, Sabrina, Adriane, and Redmond represented the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: malice (Redmond), nurture (Adriane), healing (Sabrina), guidance (Leonard). And that the fate of the world depends upon Andrew sacrificing Eric.
Now on Eric’s side, Andrew instead offers himself as a sacrifice. But then Eric reveals what he saw in the figure of light when Redmond died: he saw the future, where Andrew had grown old, where their daughter was happy and healthy and tenacious. Eric asks Andrew to be strong and trust in his vision. Eric repeats their mantra, “always together,” and Andrew shoots him.
After weeping over Eric’s body, Andrew climbs into the treehouse to comfort Wen. They hold each other for a while, then walk to find the Four Horsemen’s truck. They drive to a local diner where everybody is watching the news reports about disasters like the tsunami. It appears as though the apocalypse has ended, that order is being restored to the world.
After a bit of time, Wen and Andrew reenter the truck and sit in silence. When Andrew turns on the car, “Boogie Shoes” by KC and the Sunshine Band is playing—the same song that the three of them sang as they drove up to the cabin. Andrew turns off the radio. Then Wen turns it back on, only to turn it back off after looking at her father’s depressed face. Then Andrew turns the music back on. He and Wen share a solemn silence before driving off into the world.
The meaning of Knock at the Cabin‘s ending
In order to fully understand the ending of Knock at the Cabin, we need to comprehend the emotional stakes at hand. That means viewing the entire film as a defamiliarization of mental anxiety, of existential dread. Eric and Andrew face much discrimination in the world as same-sex parents. And Andrew in particular is having trouble existing in a reality where he and his loved ones face intolerance, where their future seems uncertain—this base layer becomes the allegorical framework for the entire film.
The plot is simple enough: Leonard, Sabrina, Adriane, and Redmond have visions of the world ending, and the only way to stop it is to convince Eric and Andrew to sacrifice either themselves or their daughter in order to stop the apocalypse. Accepting that fate and carrying out such an impossible decision is incredibly difficult. Even sacrificing a total stranger would be hard. But to sacrifice your life partner? Or your daughter? The weight of such a decision would send someone into a psychological crisis.
This entire situation extends from Andrew’s trauma. As a human rights lawyer, Andrew faces and fights discrimination on a daily basis on behalf of others. It’s clear that fighting for equality and justice had always been his mission, that he was emboldened to improve the world for people like he and Andrew. But after Andrew was attacked by Redmond at a bar, it seems Andrew’s anxiety started to build—the physicality of the experience was too brutal and too overwhelming to overcome. He had to attend years of therapy to dealt with emotional angst.
Despite the therapy, the anxiety carried with Andrew and the traumatic experience continued haunt his reality for years. Moving forward, he was forced to hide his relationship with Eric (like when he pretends Eric is his brother when picking up Wen as a baby) and was shamed for his way of life (like when Andrew’s father sits in silence at the dinner table). It’s clear that whatever fiery passion Andrew had before the meeting with Redmond had been subdued, and that the cruelties of the world had repeatedly beat him into submission. Despite his job and whatever front he puts on, Andrew had trouble dealing with the state of the world and how unfair it was to him and his family.
The cabin then becomes a symbol for his desire to run from uncertainty. Located deep in the woods away from civilization, Andrew can hide away from the world and all its problems. But eventually…the world will come knocking. And you can refuse entry all you want, but eventually reality will break its way in and force you to deal with your anxieties.
This isn’t a problem unique to Andrew. Dare I say, this problem affects us all at one time or another—and affects many people much more deeply than others. We can view Andrew’s particular experience as something called “intolerance of uncertainty.” As this article from The Conversation notes, “while it is quite natural to experience uncertainty as uncomfortable, for some it is seemingly unbearable.” The idea of “not knowing” is simply part of reality. Uncertainty constantly plagues us—uncertainty about the world and our place in the world. We have a predisposition to control our own narrative, to dictate our paths in life. But inevitably, the world rears its ugly head and shakes us back to reality: sometimes, we have no control over our surroundings.
This has been an issue in cognitive therapy for years, and has only grown more complicated and rampant as climate change looms over the livability of our planet, as discrimination and hate continues to disenfranchise entire populations of people, as mental anxiety increasingly becomes more problematic. And it’s clear that Andrew traumatized by his experience with Redmond. After years of fighting for change and trying to control the narrative, he was awakened to the cruelties of the world in one barbaric moment.
So what happens to people who suffer from intolerance of uncertainty? A crucial step is attending therapy, which Andrew has done. But clearly the trauma persisted. Clearly he continued to dread the state of the world and his family’s place within it. And eventually, the totality of his situation reached a breaking point that became the framework for the plot of Knock at the Cabin. Everything that happens in the movie and everyone in the cabin represent facets of his injured psyche.
At face value, the Four Horsemen represent the overwhelming fear that you’ll never escape the apocalypse, that your doom is imminent. Andrew continues and continues to deny the situation, to explain everything away as coincidence. But all the signs are there: Redmond is back from the traumatic experience to remind him of the fact that, no matter how hard you fight, people can still hurt you; Eric injures his head in the exact same spot as Andrew on the night of the attack; the apocalypse is threatening to leave him and his family to wander alone on an empty planet—an illustration of how he feels about their situation already. The more and more he fights, the closer the world draws to an end. And the only way to stop everything is to confront reality.
While one of the horsemen represents something negative, the other three horsemen provide a path to contentment. Redmond represents the malice of the world, or the malice that can brew in somebody who has been wronged—as Andrew was when Redmond attacked him. But then Adriane represents the nurturing nature he can channel to raise Wen properly, to help others in the world who face adversity; Sabrina represents the healing nature he must channel when Eric is hurt, when he needs to protect those he loves; and Leonard represents the guidance he must provide for himself as he continues to fight.
This introduces the remedy to intolerance of uncertainty. While you can’t control each and every little thing that happens to you in life, you can learn to weather such uncertainty. The world and society be too vast and too capricious to restrain, but every change represents an opportunity for us to react positively and grow. It can certainly feel like the world is ending when something bad happens…but it won’t. Time will continue to tick and society will continue to evolve. And we have the power to decide how we’ll fit into the world’s grand narrative.
Figuring that out isn’t easy. That’s why it’s good to have people in our corner—and that’s what Eric and Wen represent to Andrew. In a concussed moment, Eric fatefully has a vision in the moment where Redmond—the man who gave Andrew the same injury years earlier—is sacrificed. Andrew’s trauma becomes the foundation for the vision, in which Eric witnesses Andrew growing old and raising their daughter to be an upstanding, joyous, confident woman. Eric may be uncertain about the future, but Eric sees it so confidently, so surely. He knows that Andrew will find peace after sacrificing Eric, will manifest the strength and courage to overcome his trauma and move forward and change the world for the better.
Which brings us to that final scene. Andrew can’t stand to hear “Boogie Shoes” as it reminds him of losing Eric. Wen’s childish instinct is to turn the radio back on. She doesn’t realize how affecting the moment will be for Andrew—and perhaps she doesn’t realize how difficult it will be for herself to hear it. But after a pause, Andrew turns the radio back on. It’s a symbol that he’s ready to become part of the world once again, that he’s ready to serve as a model for Wen. It’s a choice to focus on the positive rather than the negative. Eric may be gone, but—as they repeated to each other throughout the film—they will be “always together.” Eric helped Andrew find emotional catharsis during the most difficult moment of his life, in a moment where the world was ending and the future seemed hopeless. In the face of such destruction, Andrew was able to overcome. He confronted the most heart-wrenching choice he’ll ever have to make, which—despite the pain and discomfort that comes with learning to navigate the intolerance of uncertainty—allowed him to become human again.
The themes and meaning of Knock at the Cabin
What the Apocalypse represents
Eric tells Andrew he believes Leonard, Sabrina, Adriane, and Redmond embody the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. These four horsemen are a major component of the Book of Revelations in the Bible. Revelation 6, specifically, speaks of these four warriors who ride out on white, red, black, and pale horses who each represent four facets of the Last Judgment, aka the end of the world: conquest, war, famine, death. Essentially, the Four Horsemen are associated with despair and misery. The end of the world is ugly and vicious and relentless, and there’s no escaping it.
Interestingly, this isn’t how Eric perceives the Four Horsemen. Instead, he believes Redmond epitomizes malice, Adriane nurturing, Sabrina healing, and Leonard guidance. Those four elements are very specific to he and Andrew’s situation. Which presents a really interesting thesis on how people individually observe the “apocalypse” and what exactly the Four Horsemen represent to our individual lives.
Let’s remember: Revelations was written by a man referred to as John of Patmos. To this day, there’s no universal concurrence on who exactly John was—he was simply a man. You could view John’s vision of the apocalypse as prophetic, or you could simply observe his tales as powerful storytelling. Storytellers create characters and situations that exaggerate yet bring clarity to the realities of life. In Revelations, it appears John reflected the cruelties of humanity back onto humanity; people have inflicted terrible things like famine and war upon each other, and John prophesied that the apocalypse would bring everything full circle. Essentially: there are consequences for abusing this world given to us by God, and the end of everything won’t be a pretty one.
But, again: let’s not forget about the importance of perspective. Revelations is nothing more than a story written by a man, and the “apocalypse” is nothing more than John’s storytelling vision. In its entirety, the Book of Revelations is an observation of goodness and virtue conquering Satan and evil. John used the Four Horsemen to punish the evil he saw throughout the world; they served as a reminder of God’s will and power, and how tiny and insignificant humans truly are by comparison.
Essentially, the “apocalypse” in Revelations represented John’s worldview. So the same filter should be applied to Eric. Metaphorically speaking, Eric and Andrew experienced the apocalypse for years. The malice of the world, represented by Redmond, had attempted to tear them apart—and did quite a number on Andrew, who was traumatized by his encounter with Redmond years earlier. That one event had sent Andrew down a dark path and caused him to be overwhelmed by the evil and cruelty of the world. As two gay men trying to raise a daughter, Eric and Andrew constantly felt disenfranchised. What kind of world is that to live in?
But…what about the other horsemen? By imbuing the other horsemen with the qualities of nurturing, healing, and guidance, Shyamalan brings an optimistic twist to the concept of the “apocalypse.” Perhaps the apocalypse doesn’t have to represent the end of everything, but instead the end of your being.
Yes, John’s prophetic story envisions the end of the world. But on a deeper level, it represents a new beginning. The world isn’t necessarily ending. It’s simply transitioning to a higher realm. The Four Horsemen represent the wrath of God, but the ascension into Heaven that follows in Revelations represents God’s grace. This isn’t the end—this is a second chance. This is a new beginning. This is rebirth.
This explains Eric’s vision. As the apocalypse ensues around Eric and Andrew, you could view the event as punishment for the way the world treated them. But Eric is able to see the goodness of humanity that the Four Horsemen represent. These horsemen are people just like Eric and Andrew, and they’re capable of the same kind of nurturing and healing and guidance that they are as parents. Just like John’s story, Eric’s prophetic vision isn’t one of despair and loneliness, but instead one of joy and transcendence. He envisions Andrew growing old and raising a strong, confident daughter. And the only way Andrew can do that is if he also discovers the goodness of humanity that lies all around him.
If you view the “apocalypse” of Knock at the Cabin in this light, the entire film becomes a meditation on how we fit into the world around us. If we’re overtaken by the negative aspects, then it can feel like the world is constantly ending. But if we learn to focus on the positive aspects, then we can enrich our lives and find our place within this world—we can experience a rebirth into a higher realm that has purpose and meaning.
Dealing with traumatic experiences
In a broader sense, Knock at the Cabin is about the family of Eric, Andrew, and Wen. But if you boiled it down, you could argue that this horror movie is truly about Andrew as he deals with a traumatic experience.
Redmond’s attack years earlier at the bar clearly disoriented Andrew and besmirched his worldview. As a human rights lawyer, he was suddenly driven by anger and negativity in his profession; as a parent, he was saddened by his father’s disapproval of his relationship with Eric. Altogether, Andrew felt disenfranchised by the world. People looked down on his lifestyle, which in turn made him feel lonely and disconnected from society. He purely relied on comfort from his partner, and had decided to shut everyone else out.
You could view the entire situation in Knock at the Cabin as reflective of this trauma. The movie isn’t necessarily about Andrew, but instead about how his trauma affects people in his life. As a family, Eric, Andrew, and Wen must work together to find a path through the darkness. For Andrew to become an effective father who will raise Wen to be strong, he must learn to reflect that strength. And the only way to do that is to overcome his trauma, to live life as he would like Wen to live it, to embody goodness and positivity and joy. He must learn to let Eric go and find his own path.
Why is the movie called Knock at the Cabin?
The answer to this question is simple enough, right? The movie is called Knock at the Cabin because…this family gets a knock at its cabin. Which leads to the chaos that ensues for the rest of the movie. But it’s what knock represents is really what we’re concerned about. Symbolically, it’s a much bigger conversation.
Often the phrase “knock knock” is used to describe a wake-up call. Or a reality check. You could be cheerfully living your life, pretending everything is OK—when you suddenly get that reality check. You’re happy, you’re living your best life, you’re free. But then, knock knock…here’s the real world to remind you just how small and insignificant you really are. To remind you of all the terribleness you’ve been hiding from.
This feeling is captured at the beginning of the movie. Eric and Andrew have secluded themselves in a cabin in the woods, away from civilization. They have physically (and metaphorically) separated themselves from a world that has discriminated their family situation. But the Four Horsemen show up to remind them that they cannot hide, that Andrew must deal with his trauma, that you have to make some sacrifices in order to find mental stability in such a cruel world.
This explains why Shyamalan starts with Wen and Leonard before moving onto Eric and Andrew. Wen is completely innocent about her family’s situation, viewing its predicaments with a childlike understanding. While Leonard is the calm, omniscient observer who’s come to bring bad news. He is sympathetic about all the bad things that happen to people…but knows they happen nonetheless. And you can’t hide from it. Wen and Leonard’s shared energy allows Shyamalan to set the table and whet the palate for the much bigger revelation heading towards Wen’s family: the apocalypse is coming. And it’s time to confront it.
Here’s a common sentiment felt by…well, just about everyone: “Why is this happening to me? What did I do to deserve this?” When you’re a good person and something bad happens to you, it can be difficult to process. We see this happen to Eric and Andrew, who don’t understand why the fate of their world has fallen on their shoulders. This is an extreme way of defamiliarizing that common sentiment: it can feel like the entire world is bearing down on us during those low moments. “I’m a good person,” you might think. “I didn’t hurt anybody. This isn’t fair!”
Well, knock knock, this is your reality check: life isn’t fair. And you can’t run from the cruelties of life and pretend everything is hunky-dory. Eric and Andrew have to figure some things out as a family if they want to continue to live in this world—because the world isn’t changing. Negativity will always invade your life. In Andrew’s case specifically, we see that he never fully dealt with his traumatic experience with Redmond. He let his disapproving father influence his outlook on the world. He allowed all that anger and negativity to push his career as a human rights lawyer. His journey in Knock at the Cabin is to deal with all those anxieties and come out the other side ready to be a strong father for his daughter in such an unforgiving world. If you want to live here, if you want to thrive here, then at some point you must accept just how unfair life can be. That’s the only way to find yourself, to win the game of life.
Important motifs in Knock at the Cabin
Various forms of violence in Knock at the Cabin illuminate and give weight to the themes and character journeys at hand. Some examples of violence we witness are: the weapons used by the Four Horsemen; the gun Andrew keeps in his truck; the sacrifice the Four Horsemen ask Eric, Andrew, and Wen to make; and the apocalyptic mayhem that consumes the world.
In general, the Four Horsemen represent the unfair pressure and fear Eric and Andrew face as same-sex parents in a discriminatory society. When these four strangers descend upon the cabin, their entry and presence is unwelcome—a painful, symbolic reminder of Eric and Andrew’s daily subjugation. The Horsemen’s weapons become symbols for what Eric and Andrew perceive to be animosity.
That perception of the Four Horsemen drives Eric and Andrew to become violent themselves. Their desperate disbelief in the incoming apocalypse allows pain and misery to infect the rest of the world. The all-encompassing violence that persists throughout the film can be traced back to a single truth: Eric and Andrew are unwilling to make a sacrifice; they’ll hurt everyone else before they hurt each other.
In this light, the violence becomes representative of the struggle to feel included in the world. When we fight for equality, when we fight for our rightful place in society, we often become angry or frustrated or—when none of those avenues produce results—violent. If pushed to the brink, members of society will respond to injustice with retaliation. Eric and Andrew respond to the Four Horsemen’s violence with their own violence. And Andrew, who had been personally attacked by people for his lifestyle, is willing to let the world suffer in the name of his family. The violence overall becomes reflective of the idea that hurt people are inclined to hurt other people.
The cabin itself is a sort of symbol that represents Eric and Andrew’s escape from the world. They purposely isolate themselves in the woods, metaphorically removing themselves from civilization where they face discrimination regularly.
Ironically, the solitude they seek becomes representative of the very social isolation they experience on a daily basis. By attempting to remove themselves from hatred, they effectively remove themselves from the very society they’d like to become a more integral part of. It’s a form of self-flagellation that exacerbates the very problem they’re so eager to fix.
This all ties back to Andrew’s specific struggle with his past trauma. Redmond’s attack years earlier depressed Andrew and required him to attend therapy to cope. Andrew felt powerless in a world that didn’t accept his family or his lifestyle, and he internalized much of his pain. By isolating himself, he became detached from the rest of society.
From this perspective, you can view the apocalypse as a wake-up call. Andrew can ignore the world all he wants, but his self-enforced isolation is causing irreparable harm to everyone else—including his family. But you can’t hide for forever, as eventually the world will come knocking. The entire film could be viewed as Andrew’s resistance to reintegrate back into society.
Questions & answers about Knock at the Cabin
Why are Andrew, Eric, and Wen chosen?
Eric himself says he believes his family was chosen because their love was so pure. Only a family that loved each other this much could properly make a decision that determined the fate of humanity. An important thing to remember is that’s purely Eric’s spin to make logic of the situation. For all we know, this family could have been chosen randomly.
This leads to the true symbolic heart of the real answer: Eric and Andrew were chosen because they needed to make a decision. As same-sex parents, they faced discrimination from the rest of the world for their lifestyle choices. That discrimination had caused them to metaphorically isolate themselves in the woods away from the rest of the world. In an attempt to deal with the isolation they experienced, they had forced isolation on themselves—which isn’t a sustainable cure to their problem. They want each other and their daughter to become integral members of society.
Eric and Andrew wanted to run away from the world. But this decision forces them to consider the rest of civilization, to contemplate what life would be like if everybody else was gone. By choosing to sacrifice themselves and save humanity, they are choosing to allow their daughter to become part of the world. This, in turn, inspires them to fix the world instead of running from it.
Why are Leonard, Sabrina, Adriane, and Redmond chosen?
It seems as though these four are chosen completely randomly—and, in terms of the actual plot logic of the movie, that may be true. But for symbolic purposes, these four people are chosen because of what they represent to Eric and Andrew. As same-sex parents, they were hiding away from a discriminatory society, unable to cope with their social displacement. And when these Four Horsemen descend upon their cabin, Eric and Andrew felt threatened by the horsemen’s presence.
But their perspective was skewed in the wrong direction. They perceived these strangers to be threats because they perceived the rest of society as a threat to their existence. As gay men, they were constantly under attack from discriminatory practices and beliefs. But, as Eric points out towards the end of the movie, these people were chosen because they represented crucial aspects of humanity that Eric and Andrew needed to embrace. Yes, Redmond represents the malice of the world. But the amount of people who nurture, heal, and guide greatly outnumber such negativity. The horsemen showed Eric the extent and nuance of humanity—a level of optimism and hope that he then passed onto Andrew.
Why do the Four Horsemen knock before entering?
Logistically, it seems the Four Horsemen knocked because they were commanded to by whatever higher being brought them together. Their shared visions not only foresaw the apocalypse, but told them where to meet and how to find the cabin. We can assume, then, that these visions commanded them to knock before entering the house.
Symbolically, the “knock” represents reality for Eric, Andrew, and Wen. It wouldn’t make any sense for the Horsemen to immediately break in and hold everyone hostage. Part of Eric and Andrew’s journey is recognizing humanity for what it is—all the good, and all the bad. But for so long, they (especially Andrew) could only see the ugliness of the world. They were determined to shut everyone else. But the Four Horsemen are there to force them to reckon with society, to accept and confront the messy reality of the world. So the horsemen must knock, because Eric and Andrew must willingly accept to become part of this experience.
Now it’s your turn
Have more unanswered questions about Knock at the Cabin? Are there themes or motifs we missed? Is there more to explain about the ending? Please post your questions and thoughts in the comments section! We’ll do our best to address every one of them. If we like what you have to say, you could become part of our movie guide!