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Knock at the Cabin makes Cabin in the Woods an even better movie


M. Night Shyamalan Knock on the hut (now streaming on Peacock) and Drew Goddard’s The cabin in the woods are radically different films, but they are also variations on the same idea. Yes, both are mystery-driven thrillers that hide major revelations behind familiar horror genres. (Knock on the hut initially looks like a home invasion thriller; Cabin in the woods pretends to be a slasher movie.) But the similarities run deeper. In both films, protagonists are told they must die to avoid the apocalypse. In both cases, the people delivering the message are questionable. Both films ask the same questions: What would you do if you were told to sacrifice yourself to save people you don’t know? Is it worth dying hoping to save the world, even if you never know if that’s true?

But Cabin in the woods has much more fun with the question than Knock on the hut. The films come to very different conclusions about the value of sacrifice and about the trustworthiness of anyone who asks for it. They form a perfect double function. But eventually, Knock on the hut‘s greatest value may be that it makes Cabin in the woods – already a clever, exciting, at the same time scary and hilarious experience for horror fans – even better than it was on its own.

(Ed. remark: End spoilers ahead for both Knock on the hut And The cabin in the woods.)

Photo: Lion Gate

Cabin in the woods stands nicely on its own as a meta-commentary to horror movies, a joke about the genre that makes for some solid, creepy scares while explaining some of the horror movie’s biggest nonsense. Goddard’s movie finds reasons why horny teens in slasher movies are willing to run into the woods for sex, no matter how many rumors they hear about sex-hating machete killers roaming the streets. And in a moment, and you’ll miss it, there’s an explanation for why horror movie characters often don’t stick to guns for very long.

The essence of Cabin in the woods is that once a year the evil gods slumbering in the heart of the world (a very Lovecraftian concept) demand a sacrifice, in the form of five archetypal beautiful young people. A series of secret organizations around the world make annual sacrifices by selecting victims, luring them into isolation and forcing them into a horror movie scenario. At every step, the sacrifices are controlled and manipulated to ensure their death.

In Cabin in the woods, some of the protagonists manage to see behind the curtain and realize that they have been lied to and are essentially being executed in a way designed to maximize their terror and suffering. When two of the survivors, Dana (Kristen Connolly) and Marty (Fran Kranz) confront the mysterious director (Sigourney Weaver) behind the American iteration of the ritual, she explains that all the guile and deceit will be necessary to stop the monstrosities. keep at a distance. (There’s a good strong indication that the “monsters” are a metaphor for horror fans, who eagerly jump at any opportunity to watch people die graphically on screen.)

Dana (Kristen Connolly) pushes a tall wooden wardrobe against a smashed window as zombies try to force their way into her rustic cabin in 2011's The Cabin in the Woods

Photo: Lion Gate

Due to the parameters of the ritual, Dana is told to just kill Marty to avert the apocalypse, but she gets to live herself – the horror gauntlet sometimes makes for a “last girl” survivor, but Marty, as the comic relief, must die. However, Dana can’t bring herself to do the deed, and in the end she and Marty both decide that a world fundamentally built on such horrors and sacrifices need not endure. So they willfully let the apocalypse happen.

It’s a shocking and at the same time happy ending – and the exact opposite of what happens in it Knock on the hut, where two men, Eric and Andrew (Jonathan Groff and Ben Aldridge) and their daughter, Wen (Kristen Cui), are held hostage by strangers who tell them the apocalypse is coming unless one family member dies at the hands of another in a ritual sacrifice. A big part of the film’s question is whether the invaders, led by the hulking Leonard (Dave Bautista), are simply delusional, and whether any of the family members dying will actually mean anything. But several signs suggest they’re telling the truth, forcing the family to make a terrible decision that plays directly on the beliefs about faith and religion that M. Night Shyamalan has built into some of his earlier films.

The objectives of the two films seem to be diametrically opposed; Knock on the hut suggests the importance of belief in the face of the unknowable, while Cabin in the woods replies that it is not worth continuing to believe in people or gods with bad intentions. But they make a perfect double function because of the way they interact with each other. Knock on the hut raises many questions it doesn’t answer, and leaves so much room for interpretation that it’s easy to see it as something of a environmental disaster warning to a coy expression of homophobia masquerading as a love story. Cabin in the woods reads like a response, somehow released 12 years earlier – and the responses to it Knock‘s questions are quite funny.

Eric (Jonathan Groff) and Leonard (Dave Bautista) circle around a table and compete for advantage in a fight in Knock at the Cabin

Photo: Universal Pictures

Above all, Knock on the hut leave the whole setup open. It is never clear what idea or what force is behind the “kill each other or the world ends” case. Is it the Christian God again testing the believers, as he does in the Old Testament, when he demands that his follower Abraham turn his son into a human sacrifice? Are they the gods of another religion or pantheon or creed? The devil? Just a cosmic oddity? Shyamalan almost certainly left those answers out (much like Paul Tremblay, who wrote the novel on which the movie is based, did in his much grittier version of the story) to avoid viewers bickering over religious dogma. Instead, both men seem to want their audience to stick with the simplest version of the question: Would you kill someone you love to save countless other people?

But that leaves the survivor Knock characters at sea in a cruel world where they are expected to respect the sacrifice of the one who died, without really having any idea why it was necessary, or who to blame, appeal to or question . In fact, they don’t know what to feel except sadness. That’s probably not that different from someone who loses a family member and wonders why it happened, and where to leave the anger and frustration that are so common alongside grief. But it doesn’t make for a wholly satisfying horror thriller or a completely satisfying philosophical experiment. It just leaves the story and characters in an ambiguous and even nihilistic tone.

Cabin in the woods plays into the details of the scenario to make the metaphor clearer and the landing more satisfying. It puts a face to the torments Dana and her friends face – a very human face actively chosen to lie to the victims and cover up why they die. And when the Cabin in the woods survivors decide it’s not worth supporting such a deceitful and vampiric world, they’re not just resisting fate or evil gods, they’re fighting back against the cowards who sent them to their deaths in the first place.

Marty (Fran Kranz), a stoner in dirty jeans and a gray T-shirt covered in mud and blood, stands in the woods with a telescoping silver bong as a bat with a rusty chain wrapped around it in a scene from 2011's The Cabin in the forests

Photo: Lion Gate

That’s another interesting way the two Cabin films intersect: in Shyamalan’s version, the intercessors who set up the sacrifice tell the full and absolute truth as they know it. Leonard and his cohort regret the pain they’re causing, and they’re as nice as can be about it. Their candor leads one of the protagonists to make the choice to save the world. (It helps that Leonard and his crew clearly have their own skin in the game – they’re also willing to sacrifice themselves, even when they’re reluctant and scared, and don’t understand why it’s necessary.)

In Goddard’s film, on the other hand, intercessors like the director and her accomplices Sitterson (Richard Jenkins) and Hadley (Bradley Whitford) deceive, manipulate, and mock their victims, peek at their naked bodies, and bet money on what will ultimately kill them. None of them risk their own safety in the annual ritual, which is all about saving themselves by killing unwitting victims. When Dana and Marty decide to let the whole world fall apart in the hope that something better will rise from the ashes, they usually just resist the selfish cruelty of their tormentors. The ultimate baddies aren’t the evil gods – they’re the humans who feed them.

Cabin in the woods is a darker, bloodier version of the “those to avert the apocalypse” story than Knock on the hut, and his version of exaltation is grim and even spiteful – a raised middle finger to the cosmos, saying, “You’re not in charge of me.” But it is still satisfying to return after Knock on the hut, and to read it as a reaction to a somewhat muddled film that deliberately leaves too many of its key elements in a mushy haze. It suggests a punk-rock resistance to that Knock on the hut and his frightened, downcast characters lack it all: the energy to wonder who would design such a horrible system, and the anger to not go along with it. Shyamalan may be planning Knock on the hut as a study of faith and belief, and a story that makes a hero out of a man willing to die for the people he loves. But Cabin in the woods ends with the feeling of that man’s well-deserved revenge – an act of defiance by people who hate being puppets, no matter who is in control.

Knock on the hut now streaming exclusively on Peacock. The cabin in the woods streams on HBO Max and is available to rent or purchase at Amazon, Vuduand other digital platforms.

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