Horror author Paul Tremblay made a name for himself off of the success of his 2015 novel A Head Full of Ghosts, which focused on a family whose older daughter might be showing signs of demonic possession. While I enjoyed reading it, that novel’s ambiguity didn’t work quite as well for me as it did for many others, likewise with his next book, Disappearance at Devil’s Rock, so I was quite surprised when that was followed up by the absolutely stellar The Cabin at the End of the World. The bleak open-endedness of the novel’s climax was devastatingly impactful and lingered with me for days. Upon hearing that the book was to be adapted for the screen by M. Night Shyamalan I knew there was no chance that the ending would be preserved, but I am impressed by just how well he managed to fit the material to his own sensibilities.
Both the book and the movie focus on couple Eric (Jonathan Groff) and Andrew (Ben Aldridge) and their 7-year-old adopted daughter Wen (Kristen Cui), who are vacationing in a lakeside cabin deep in the woods. One day while Wen is alone collecting grasshoppers, a man (Dave Bautista) appears out of the forest and approaches her. She is understandably wary and has been warned off of talking to strangers, but he seems friendly and introduces himself as Leonard. Soon enough, her guard is down and the two start collecting bugs together until more people emerge in the distance with makeshift weapons, and Wen runs to the cabin to her alert her fathers.
After their confusion over what Wen is claiming wears off, Eric and Andrew barricade the family into the cabin as Leonard and his companions begin loudly knocking on the door and asking to come in to talk. Of course they refuse and so the interlopers break their way inside and tie the two men to some chairs after a scuffle. Once things have calmed down, the rest of the group introduce themselves as Sabrina (Nikki Amuka-Bird), Adriane (Abby Quinn), and Redmond (Rupert Grint), explaining that they have never met but were brought together by common visions of an impending apocalypse that can only be stopped if the family staying in this cabin agrees to sacrifice one of their own. Eric and Andrew are incredulous and refuse to consider the notion, but as they observe increasingly catastrophic events on the news the truth of the matter becomes less clear, and the intruders continue to urge them to make a choice.
Shyamalan is able to revisit a lot of the themes about faith that he previously dealt with in Signs to better effect here. He’s always known how to make a good-looking movie and this one is no exception, but he sometimes stumbles with his writing. Luckily with such strong source material he has crafted one of his best films. The script (co-written with Steve Desmond and Michael Sherman) makes the truth about what is actually happening in the wider world much clearer than the book does and offers up a significantly more hopeful ending while still delivering an emotional gut-punch to viewers. Groff, Aldridge, and Cui are fully believable as a loving family faced in an impossible situation, as are Grint, Amuka-Bird, and Quinn as some of the invaders, but Bautista is especially impressive here, getting to more fully show how capable of an actor he can be than ever before. This isn’t the sort of horror movie that is filled with gore or jump scares, rather it is of a sort that will leave the viewer haunted long after it’s over. ★★★★★
rated r for violence and language.
★★★★★ = Excellent | ★★★★ = Very Good | ★★★ = Good | ★★ = Fair | ★ = Poor