Book Vs. Movie Adaptation Why ‘The Cabin at the End of the World’ is Better Than ‘Knock at the Cabin’

Luz Analitis, Arts and Life Editor

I completely understand that book-to-movie adaptations inherently can not be exactly like the book it is based on. Things get left out due to time constraints and creative freedom is always involved with the art of filmmaking. I take issue though when changes are made to key plot points that fundamentally change the themes and messaging that made the original book material so special. This is exactly what happened with the film “Knock at the Cabin”. There are many differences, but I will only touch upon ones I felt were detrimental to the book’s meaningfulness and disappointed me the most.

The beginning sequences of the film are very loyal to the novel. When the movie gets to the part where Redmond’s character is killed though, the rest of the film takes a sharp turn away from the book.

First off, I picked up the book from the horror section at Barnes & Noble. Yes, the premise of both the book and movie is horrific, but what I felt made the book particularly horror-based was also its graphic descriptions and spine-tingling details. Redmond’s death in the book is especially graphic and very specific. I am a huge horror fan and I do not shy away from violence/gore-based horror. Since this was a big part of the book, I was expecting the movie to also portray this and be true to the horror genre. The movie ends up not really showing any of these deaths on-screen and in my opinion, feels way more like a thriller than a horror movie. I ended up feeling pretty disappointed since that was a big part of the appeal to me.

Another aspect of the book that made it more horror-based and completely different from the film is that the novel kept things unclear to the reader. Whether the world was truly ending or not, it was never revealed and the book kept the reader second-guessing the scenario throughout the plot’s entirety. Was there really a higher power that prophesied this family to choose between a sacrifice or destroying humanity, or was the group of intruders just a bunch of crazies forcing death and terror upon an innocent family? Both options are horrific, and the reader never gets a definite answer. This adds a layer of tension and darkness that the movie lacks because the movie chooses to confirm with certainty that the prophecy is true and the world really was going to end unless they made the sacrifice.

There are also huge differences between who dies in the book and who dies in the movie. In the book, a major twist happens when the 7-year-old daughter of the family, Wen, is accidentally shot and killed. The intruders say that her death does not count because it was not a willing sacrifice and that the fathers still need to choose which one of them must die to save the world. This is an absolutely devastating part of the book, but it is also central to the themes presented in the book, which I will address later on.

In the movie, Wen survives the whole ordeal. I assume her death was not included in the film because it would understandably upset audiences and may be too depressing and dark for people to handle. The book is however meant to be very dark and deals with the fact that tragedy is a part of life. Leaving out Wen’s death felt like they were trying to shield us from the tragic horrors of life, which feels patronizing and too idealistic. Meanwhile, the book faces it head-on, which I find is more honest and impactful to the reader.

This also feeds into the vastly different endings presented by the book and film. As stated, the movie ends up confirming that the intruders truly did receive visions from a higher power telling them that this specific family has been chosen to make a sacrifice to save the world and all those who inhabit it. Therefore the fathers agree to sacrifice Eric, allowing Wen and Andrew to survive and the world to be saved.

Again, in the book, it is left completely ambiguous whether the world is actually ending or not. It is also not clarified if the group really received true visions from a higher being or are just deranged individuals causing death for no real reason. With Wen’s death allegedly not proving worthy enough to appease the higher power, Eric and Andrew are left to make a choice: either take their chances and not make the sacrifice in hopes that the whole scenario is a hoax, but there’s a chance the world may actually end. Or choose to sacrifice one of them and save the world, but it may turn out the whole thing was false and the sacrifice would be for nothing. They ultimately decide that even if the prophecy was true, they would not want to appease such a cruel deity anyway. They choose to honor and love Wen and themselves and stand together to face whatever is to come. Whether that be the end of the world, or grieving Wen’s death for the rest of their lives, they will do it together. The book concludes without the reader knowing which outcome will happen.

My summary does not do the book’s ending justice. It is beautifully heart-wrenching due to Tremblay’s superb writing, and it wonderfully exemplifies the triumph of love even in the face of grave tragedy and fear. I definitely cried when I finished the book.

Some may argue that the ambiguity of the book would leave audiences feeling unsatisfied due to the lack of closure. I would argue the opposite though. I felt at peace knowing that no matter what, Eric and Andrew would have each other, and their love will get them through whatever is to come. Due to this, I found the ending’s ambiguity to be a major strength of the book.

On the other hand, the movie felt like it tied everything up too neatly. It left no interpretation up to the viewer and lacked the incredible depth and meaning that the book presented.

The book makes the reader question whether tragedy happens by chance and free will, or if it is possible that there is a deity with cruelty in its nature that controls and toys with humanity. It forces the reader to question morality and examine how we make choices and sacrifices. There are many other thought-provoking questions and issues presented to the reader, but the important thing is that they are all left open-ended for the reader to interpret and work through.  

In Tremblay’s own words included in the extended liner notes of the book: “My defiant hope for you is that this book ultimately becomes about the choice Eric and Andrew make and not whether or not the world is actually ending. I mean, sh*t, their world has already been definitively shattered, don’t you think? It’s about the choice: do they and do we choose fear or that most defiant of all hopes, love”?

The movie unfortunately completely misses the opportunity for presenting this incredibly thought-provoking message due to the extreme changes I have mentioned in this article.

All-in-all, as a stand-alone film, “Knock at the Cabin” is an enjoyable watch. Compared to the book “The Cabin at the End of the World” though, it lacks the depth and profoundness that the source material possesses.

Unfortunately, this adds to a long list of disappointing book-to-film adaptations. I was really hoping this movie could prove to be the exception, but it fails to do so. Nonetheless, if you are a fan of horror novels with dark themes, I highly recommend reading the book. It is remarkable.