Knock at the Cabin’s Most Important Twist and the Figure Eric Saw in the Mirror
Now that Knock at the Cabin is available on Peacock, we can wrestle with one of the biggest questions in M. Night Shyamalan's latest.
This post contains heavy spoilers for Knock at the Cabin and The Cabin at the End of the World.
Andrew stares at his husband Eric, no longer able to contain his disbelief. The couple, played by Ben Aldridge and Jonathan Groff, have spent the day undergoing a horrific ordeal, forced by the hulking but gentle Leonard (Dave Bautista) and his three associates to choose to sacrifice a member of their family, including their young daughter Wen (Kristen Cui). If they don’t make that choice, then the apocalypse will occur.
Andrew thinks he and Eric are together in their resistance, fueled by his conviction that Leonard is simply a bigot who put together an elaborate plot to torture them. But Andrew starts to see a break in his husband’s eyes. He sees Eric’s face soften, a look of resolute compassion replacing the fear and anger that was there before.
“I think I saw a person,” he confesses. “Or a figure.”
This confession plays a pivitol role in Knock at the Cabin, the latest twisty film from director M. Night Shyamalan. As Andrew eventually realizes, Eric’s experience changes everything about their situation, making them not victims of a homophobic hate group, but part of a larger cosmic struggle.
We viewers are just as shocked as Andrew, filled with questions. What exactly did Eric see in the mirror? Did we see it as well? And what does that mean for the movie’s themes?
Knock at the Cabin vs The Cabin at the End of the World
On one hand, it wouldn’t be much of a surprise if Eric did see something supernatural in the mirror. After all, Shyamalan has made his name telling stories with supernatural twists, which change everything that come before. That’s most clear in his breakout The Sixth Sense, in which Malcolm’s (Bruce Willis) condition explains the isolation he experienced throughout the movie. But a similar thing happens in Signs and Lady in the Water. Even when the twist involves a “scientific” or psychological revelation, such as Mr. Glass’s (Samuel L. Jackson) machinations in Unbreakable or Casey’s (Anya Taylor-Joy) scars in Split, they have an unreality that feels more like stuff of magic than a lab.
That tension between faith and fact drives much of Knock at the Cabin, as Leonard and his comrades insist that they’ve come to Eric and Andrew, not willingly, but driven by a mysterious force. Leonard explains that he and the others have never met one another, but they’ve been receiving visions instructing them to come to that cabin and make a demand of the family living there. But Andrew insists that the quartet are, at best, suffering a mass delusion and, at worst, a hate group intentionally targeting a gay couple.
In keeping things ambiguous, Shyamalan follows the source material, the novel The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul G. Tremblay. The novel leaves all possibilities open, up through the end of the story. In the climax of the novel, Wen is shot and killed while Eric and Andrew wrestle with Leonard for his gun. But because Wen did not choose to die, her death did not satisfy the demands of the universe or deity, and a sacrifice was still needed. The story closes with Andrew and Eric choosing not to sacrifice one another, leaving the cabin to face whatever is out there.
While it might be a stretch to say that the movie has a happy ending, it certainly makes things more literal. No, Wen does not die in Knock at the Cabin. Instead, Eric chooses to sacrifice himself, a decision he makes peacefully and full of love for his family. Of course, it happens while the world does indeed seem to be ending, with a horrific storm oncoming and planes falling out of the sky. After his death, Andrew and Wen drive away, learning from news reports that disasters seem to be averted and things are getting better. In short, the apocalypse was real, and Eric’s sacrifice prevented it.
What Did Eric See in the Mirror?
While the confirmation of the apocalypse comes late in the movie, Eric claimed he saw something in the mirror relatively early in the story. After he and Andrew refuse Leonard’s first request to make a sacrificial choice, Eric watches as one of the quartet, the hateful Redmond (Rupert Grint), pulls a white mask over his face. He kneels down before the other three and allows himself to be beaten to death.
But before that happens, the camera starts following Eric’s perspective. In between close-up shots of Eric’s face, highlighting the hope and wonder overtaking him, we see a beam of light come in from the left side of the frame and strike the mirror on the back wall, filling the screen for a moment.
Despite the music sting that accompanies the light, it’s possible to explain away Eric’s vision in mundane terms. It could easily be a regular sunbeam, coming through the window and hitting the mirror just right, something we’ve all experienced. Furthermore, Eric has already suffered a concussion, having been knocked out during the first tussle with Leonard and the others.
Even closely rewatching the movie after Eric’s claim, it’s hard to see a figure in the mirror. Maybe the light takes a humanoid form for a frame or two, resembling the aliens from Cocoon more than a person, but there’s no conclusive evidence. No part of the movie confirms Eric’s statement. We have to make a choice: do we take it on faith that Eric saw what he saw, or do we adhere to the facts that we can see?
The Bible and Knock at the Cabin
Although Shyamalan was raised Hindi and does not openly profess any particular faith, Christianity has always played an important role in his films, particularly Catholicism and Episcopalianism. Characters in The Sixth Sense, Signs, The Village, and even Split gain strength to overcome adversity by pointing to larger forces, suggesting the orchestration of a benevolent (if sometimes inscrutable, if not outright cruel) and all powerful God.
But Knock at the Cabin is perhaps his most explicitly biblical movie, thanks to its reveal that Leonard and his associates are the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse have their roots in the figurative language of Revelation, the final book in the Bible. But Eric identifies the Horsemen not according to their roles described in Revelation 6 — conquest/pestilence, war, famine, and death — but to different purposes. To him, they represent malice, nurturing, healing, and guidance. In other words, they represent the best and worst that humanity has to offer, and thus it deserves to be saved.
Less obvious is the earlier biblical reference, one that ties into the image in the mirror. In the book of Daniel from the Hebrew Bible, the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar sentences three Jewish men to execution for refusing to worship him as god. The trio are thrown into a fiery furnace, but according to Daniel, they do not burn. Instead, the King sees “four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods.” According to many Christian readings (though not necessarily Jewish readings, which is where the story originates), that fourth person is Jesus Christ, God in human form.
There’s more than a little similarity between Eric’s vision and the one described in Daniel. In the midst of suffering, God appears to make Godself known, revealing even then that Leonard is right and Eric must sacrifice himself.
Making the Choice
By the time the closing credits hit, Knock at the Cabin has answered most of the questions it has raised. Leonard was right. The apocalypse is real. And Eric stopped it by sacrificing himself, acting out of love for humanity that he hopes others will follow.
But despite this literal explanation, Eric’s vision remains in question. Did he in fact see God, appearing in the form of light to give comfort to Eric during a horrible trial? Did God appear to add weight to his own cruel and grisly demands? Or did Eric just have a concussion, given to seeing things that aren’t real?
In the end, no one can answer that question for you. You have to make a choice.