Horror author Paul Tremblay on ‘Knock at the Cabin’ and the highs and lows of Hollywood adaptation

He may be getting texts from M. Night Shyamalan now, but Hollywood success has been a long time coming for horror author Paul Tremblay.

Almost eight years, in fact.

Tremblay is now just a day away from an adaptation of his novel The Cabin at the End of the World(Opens in a new window) (Opens in a new window)coming to the big screen. Retitled Knock at the Cabin, written/directed by Shyamalan and starring Dave Bautista, Jonathan Groff, Ben Aldridge, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Abby Quinn, and Rupert Grint, the film is about as big as a movie adaptation can get.


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But getting it made hasn’t been easy, and there have been — and continue to be — frustrations. Mashable spoke to Tremblay about the long process of getting his books turned into movies, the visit he made to the Cabin set, and how he’s pouring some of his Hollywood experiences into the horror novel he’s just finished drafting.

It’s been a long road to the big screen.

Two men are tied to a chair each in their cabin, a girl hugs one, and a man squats in front of them.

(from left) Andrew (Ben Aldridge), Wen (Kristen Cui), Eric (Jonathan Groff) and Leonard (Dave Bautista) in “Knock at the Cabin”.
Credit: Universal Pictures / PhoByMo

Although Tremblay has been a successful horror author since his highly praised novel A Head Full of Ghosts(Opens in a new window) was published in 2015, The Knock at the Cabin will be the first time his work has appeared on screen.

It’s not through lack of trying. The Cabin at the End of the World was first optioned by FilmNation back in 2017(Opens in a new window), while A Head Full of Ghosts got a headline-catching movie auction sale(Opens in a new window) before the book had even hit shelves. Tremblay has other work under option too, and Hollywood clearly wants to turn his books into films.

So why has it taken so long?

“Anytime something gets made it does seem like a minor miracle.”

“It does seem like, especially when you get to higher levels of money, of budget being involved, there’s a lot more people making decisions that are sort of money based, as opposed to leaving the storytelling to the writers and the directors,” Tremblay explains.

Although Tremblay stresses that he’s had positive relationships with some producers — like Allegiance Theatre and Team Downey, who have been doggedly trying to make A Head Full of Ghosts for eight years now, despite a 2020 shoot being derailed by the pandemic — he also has plenty of stories of meetings that don’t go anywhere, and Hollywood clichés being proven all too true.

“There really is a producer out there that, when I picked up the phone, said, ‘Hey, I want to be in the Paul Tremblay business,'” he laughs. “And I was like, ‘What? What are you talking about?’ That was the only phone call I ever had with that producer but it was just like this weird sales optimism thing, where everyone’s your friend and then you never hear from them again. It’s a bizarre way to operate.”

Tremblay’s relationship with Hollywood appears conflicted in this way. On the one hand he’s excited about Cabin hitting the big screen, the premiere he recently attended with his family, and the great experience he had visiting the set for two days during filming. But on the other he’s clearly become jaded with the time it takes for things to happen in the Hollywood business, and the many road bumps that typically take place before they do.

“Anytime something gets made,” he says, “it does seem like a minor miracle.”

Tremblay visited the set of Knock at the Cabin last year.

A director leans on his legs looking into a camera next to an actor on a film set that resembles a cabin interior.

Director M. Night Shyamalan and Dave Bautista on the set of “Knock at the Cabin”.
Credit: Universal Pictures / PhoByMo

Although Tremblay is taking a sabbatical from his full-time job as a math teacher this year, he’s used to fitting in his writing commitments around high school work. That was the case in May 2022 when he took a trip to a warehouse film set in Philadelphia to watch Cabin being shot.

“It was a little disorienting to be on this movie set, this amazing make-believe land, and then I fly back and the next day I’m teaching geometry,” he laughs. “I was like, ‘I guess that happened.’ It’s one of those moments of big anticipation and then the moment happens and it’s like oh, you’re actually in it.”

A television screen shows an image of two men tied to chairs in a cabin room.

Tremblay watched scenes being shot from a side room during his set visit.
Credit: Paul Tremblay

The whole experience sounds a little bit like that: surreal. While Tremblay was on set he watched scenes being filmed, ate lunch with the crew, and hung out with the cast between takes.

“I walked in and there’s Jonathan Groff and Ben Aldridge tied to a chair.”

“The strangest part was first walking into this cabin that they’d built inside this warehouse/sound studio, and they were just about to shoot a scene. I walked in and there’s Jonathan Groff and Ben Aldridge tied to a chair, there’s David Bautista, there’s M. Night,” Tremblay recounts. “That was like brain-blowing-up strange.”

A director instructs an actor on a set that resembles the interior of a cabin.

Shyamalan and Ben Aldridge on the set.
Credit: Universal Pictures / PhoByMo

The movie’s marketing has raised some questions.

If seeing his book brought to life on set was an overwhelmingly positive experience, the subsequent months have been more complicated for Tremblay.

Marketing materials including the trailers, billboards, and posters for Knock at the Cabin began to roll out last autumn, and while they were clearly a promotional success — the two trailers alone have over 50 million views at the time of writing — they didn’t offer much in the way of promotion for Tremblay himself. In every last piece of marketing, the author’s name is absent.

“I don’t know how much I want to talk about that,” says Tremblay, who posted about his absence from the poster on Twitter. “The tweet was a little bit cheeky because obviously I knew that that was going to get a response from folks. I didn’t necessarily want people to be like in arms, angry over it, kind of thing.”

Tremblay goes on to stress that the option deal for Cabin was made back in 2017, when he was less well known — and in less of a position to make demands. The behind-the-scenes stuff, he says, doesn’t always work out the way you think it’s going to.

“You don’t want to seem like an ungrateful tool, but at the same time it’s like hey, this is something I worked on for 18 months. I’m not ego-less about the book and the differences that there are going to be between the movie and the book,” Tremblay says. “And obviously I do want people to read the book as well.”

Tremblay is working on a new novel set in Hollywood.

Despite the ups and downs of the movie-making process, Tremblay clearly still has an interest in Hollywood. He has a screenplay based on his short story Nineteen Snapshots of Denisport that he’s reworking this year with two young film-makers, and the new novel he’s just finished writing – titled Horror Movie: A Novel – is set in the film industry.

“It’s a little bit of a satire, but it’s also a fairly grim, disturbing book.”

“Really briefly, the conceit is there are these 20-somethings who make a movie in 1993,” Tremblay explains. “They pretty much finish filming it but it never makes it to screen because something terrible happened on set. And one of the characters, one of the actors from that movie is part of a reboot attempt of that movie. So it sort of bounces back and forth between the movie that was being made in ’93 and him trying to get it remade now.”

Like much of Tremblay’s work, the novel will play around with form, featuring a full-length screenplay of the fictional movie (“It’s purposefully written in a way that no producer would ever want as your screenplay,” Tremblay laughs) which is woven throughout the novel itself.

“Definitely some of my experience goes in there,” says Tremblay. “It’s a little bit of a satire, but it’s also a fairly grim, disturbing book in some ways.”

That novel won’t be out until 2024, and it’ll be interesting to see how Tremblay’s experience with Hollywood changes in the meantime. Will Cabin do well at the box office? Will it be well received? Will A Head Full of Ghosts get the green light before the option expires in November? Will Tremblay’s screenplay get picked up?

There are lots of questions and, as is always the case with Hollywood, lots of uncertainty — but one way or another, we’ll know the answers soon enough.

The Knock at the Cabin is available in theatres from Feb 3.

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