The Cabin at the End of the World (2018)
Written by Paul Tremblay
Wen is on a summer vacation to a lake cabin in rural New Hampshire where her fathers want the family to be disconnected from the internet and their phones for a little while. She’s out collecting grasshoppers when a strange, imposingly large man shows up, introducing himself as Leonard. He seems very kind and quiet, telling her she is a great little girl and implying that he’ll be speaking with her parents very soon. Wen feels conflicted, safe at moments and then wary. Then the other emerge from the tree line, and Wen feels a strong sense of dread. Over the next two days, Wen and her dads will experience a confusing and terrifying series of events, forcing them to question the very reality of the world around them.
Since reading A Head Full of Ghosts, I have been all in on Tremblay’s novels. I admit I didn’t warm to his follow up, Disappearance at Devil’s Rock as much, but it did have strong elements. Tremblay is masterful at weaving in ambiguity throughout his horror. I think the most potent fear is the kind that forces you to doubt and question, the horror that comes with an existential quandary. This is what ran throughout the seminal work of H.P. Lovecraft and what continues to make “weird” fiction so compelling. When you are dealing with ideas beyond the scope of your limited reality, then you begin to crumble psychologically. When horror can emphasize how thin the line is between sanity and insanity, it can do amazing things.
The intruders that interject themselves into Wen’s family’s vacation keep us guessing as to their intent all the way to the end of the book. The speak without malice, and they are aggressive without being violent towards their captives. The weapons they wield imply they intend to do harm, but when we do see them draw blood with these tools, it is in an incredibly unexpected way. They profess to have knowledge about the future but refrain from expositing every single detail. The reader is in the shoes of Wen and her dads, Andrew and Eric, alternating between their perspectives during chapters. Moreover, we eventually see Andrew and Eric do things that would not be considered heroic so the novel never really has clear villains.
The premise is very familiar: a home invasion of a vulnerable family. I immediately recalled films like Funny Games and The Strangers. Where the former is a satire of horror film voyeurism and the latter is a grindhouse cash in, A Cabin at the End of the World is speaking to a very current sentiment. Andrew and Eric are comfortable; their life is progressing positively. They can be married now, and they have adopted a child together. They are financially secure, and the only thing Eric worries about are small accidents that Wen could be subject to. The arrival of the intruders awakens them to a world outside of their small personal experience. Dark things are happening, and when they are reminded of this, their dark past is dredged up, in particular, Andrew’s trauma from a gay bashing attack years ago.
The Cabin at the End of the World access that same open-endedness that made A Head Full of Ghosts so enjoyable. There are tangible horrors here, real-world tragedies but in conclusion, we are left wondering about the true nature of the shadow on the horizon. And in many ways, that distant impending doom doesn’t matter. The relationships are what count and who would want to continue living without the ones you loved, even if it meant the end of the world?