Knock knock

A home-invasion novel with Aurora roots inspires the latest film by M. Night Shyamalan

Courtesy: Universal Pictures

Novelist Paul G. Tremblay was on a flight home to New England when the idea for his 2018 novel, The Cabin at the End of the World, first emerged in his mind. It started as a “random doodle,” but soon sparked a bigger idea about the kind of story he would tell. 

“I was sitting on the plane and actually zoned out,” Tremblay says. “I noticed I’d drawn a little cabin. That made me think of the home-invasion subgenre.”

This was a problem for the 51-year-old author of novels like Survivor Song and Disappearance at Devil’s Rock. “It’s probably my least favorite subgenre. Mainly because I find it really scary and it’s too realistic for me,” he says. “When I saw the picture, though, it made me think to myself, ‘OK, Mr. Big Mouth. How would you write a home invasion story that you’d want to sit through?’ It really did start out as a thought experiment.”

Credit: Allan Amato

Little did Tremblay know that the task he set for himself at 30,000 feet would result in M. Night Shyamalan’s new movie, Knock at the Cabin. Like Tremblay’s book, the film starring Dave Bautista and Jonathan Groff revolves around a family of three vacationing in a remote cabin, who are suddenly held hostage by four strangers demanding a human sacrifice to stop the apocalypse.

The rights for The Cabin at the End of the World were initially bought by FilmNation in early 2018, six months before it was actually published. A different director and writer tried to adapt the novel, before Shyamalan became attached. But while he was delighted by his potential involvement, Tremblay tried to keep his excitement to a minimum, just in case Shyamalan had to drop out for some reason. 

“At the very beginning, it was a little bit disbelieving. Especially because they were trying to bring him on as a producer, not necessarily as a director,” he says. “Then, in the fall of 2020, I realized it might actually happen, because he had a deal with Universal. Once he finished Old, he said he’d make it. Fast forward to November 2021, then I knew it was definitely happening.”

Tremblay’s journey to seeing one of his novels being made into a movie has been rather unconventional, and it started right here on the Front Range. Born in Aurora, he only spent a year of his life in the Centennial State before moving to New England, as his father worked in the Air Force and was stationed in Denver for around four years. 

But Tremblay makes it back out to Colorado regularly these days. For the last five years, he’s been invited to take part in the Telluride Horror Show Film Festival, which is held every October. 

It was while he was studying for his master’s degree in mathematics at the University of Vermont that Tremblay’s passion for writing first began to bloom. “I fell in love with reading, weirdly, when I went away to grad school,” he says. “My girlfriend, who is now my wife, bought me Stephen King’s The Stand for my 22nd birthday.”

A couple years later, while Tremblay was teaching high school math, he decided to write a story in an attempt to find a new creative outlet. 

Courtesy: HarperCollins

“I was able to use a different side of my brain. That’s why my approach to writing might be a little bit more analytical than most,” he says. “I’m not somebody who can just write it all out and edit later. I have to move in small increments and edit as I go. I meticulously plan things out.”

Despite being a self-described “scaredy-cat,” Tremblay found himself attracted to the horror, dark fantasy, and science-fiction genres. He believes that’s because he’s always had a “terrified relationship with art,” stemming from his earliest memories of watching Godzilla and horror

“For as long as I can remember, I’ve always had scary horror dreams,” he says. “I’ve had this weird attraction to horror stories.”

Even though he was only able to stop working as a teacher at the end of the 2021-2022 school year, Tremblay has been enjoying success as a writer since 2009. His 2015 novel A Head Full Of Ghostsone of nine he’s published so far in his career —  was the first to be optioned by producers. They just so happened to be mega-star Robert Downey Jr. and his wife Susan Downey. 

“I’ve had four books optioned at this point. I’ve worked with producers who have been fantastic. They are really hard working,” he says. “With A Head Full of Ghosts, we had some really close calls. We would have filmed in the summer of 2020, but the pandemic stopped that.”

Even though Tremblay says his involvement with Knock at the Cabin didn’t get much further than a conversation with Shyamalan, he’s understandably still delighted to see it turned into a major feature film. 

“He had some very nice things to say about my book,” he says. “I appreciated how upfront he was about the changes he was going to make. It was a very cool, very nice conversation.”

Tremblay hopes to dip his toes into “more Hollywood stuff” in the future, as he’s trying to write a screenplay of his short stories. Ultimately, though, he insists it’s all about the basics.

“I’ll always be a novelist,” he says. “I just try to keep level-headed about it all.” 

PAGE TO SCREEN: Knock at the Cabin is currently screening in wide release. The Cabin at the End of the World is available now via William Morrow/HarperCollins. 


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