The Cabin at the End of the World is a familiar horror story with a modern twist. Set in a secluded cabin in upper New Hampshire, a young family of three is beset upon by a small crew of fanatics promising the end of the world. Unless the family does the unthinkable, that is: willingly sacrifice one of their loved ones to stop the rapture and save humanity. The fanatics’ passionate plea quickly devolves into a promise of death that won’t stop until the very bloody end.
Paul Tremblay, the Bram Stoker Award-winning author whose previous titles include Disappearance at Devil’s Rock and A Head Full of Ghosts, does his best to include all the familiar tropes that resonate with audiences today. Secluded lakeside cabin with no reception and miles away from anyone that could hear your screams? Check. A loving, young family of three put upon by total strangers, completely sadistic in what they aim to do? Check. Cultish figures invoking bizarre rituals designed to make readers question their own faith, with blood and gore to rival a Quentin Tarantino production? Check. The promise of doomsday and the end of humanity if one of the three family members isn’t willingly sacrificed by the other two? Well, I’m sure you get the point by now.
If you are reading this expecting something that fits alongside such modern theatrical fare as The Strangers franchise or You’re Next, you’ll see that Tremblay artfully sidesteps the “damsel in distress” and “husband-turned-action hero” clichés we’ve come to expect in these stories, all while giving an update to the age-old premise that works surprisingly well. Instead of the typical nuclear family represented in fiction on countless occasions, the novel centers around a gay couple and their adopted daughter, Wen, properly subverting any expectations the readers may have had before they can even dig into the story.
In some ways, Wen is familiar to us, much the same as her two fathers, Eric and Andrew, are also familiar; all three fit certain patterns we’ve come to appreciate, while imbuing them with unique backgrounds that keep the details fresh enough to maintain our curiosity. Is Wen a precocious child, headstrong and seemingly wise beyond her years? Yes, but she is also an adopted Chinese girl who is conscientious about the hairline scar on her lip from a cleft palate surgery. Likewise, Eric and Andrew have the same parenting dynamic that many are used to, with one being the “fun” dad, and the other being the “serious” dad.
Effeminate wilting flowers these men are not, however, and like any father would go to great lengths to protect their family from the threat of these intruders. The end result is a chaotic situation that quickly devolves into a murderous frenzy sure to make any reader sit up in anticipation of what will come next.
The Cabin at the End of the World starts off at a slow-burn, but not for long. At only seven chapters in length, the first lights a long fuse to a powder-keg of action that doesn’t go up until near the halfway point. And when it does the tension doesn’t ease until the final page, and even then readers may still find themselves on edge after the story’s conclusion. Horror fans longing to see characters from different backgrounds represented in literature should thoroughly enjoy this one, and possibly come away with a renewed interest in what else Paul Tremblay has to offer in his other works.