Contains minor spoilers for Knock at the Cabin and The Last of Us.
I woke up from a creepy dream the morning after I saw Knock at the Cabin, M. Knight Shyamalan’s new chamber play of a horror film about the End of Days. While I was cleaning the house, a dear friend’s husband was carrying a book around, looking for a spot to read. He’s a poet, so my friend is the breadwinner for the couple and their daughter, on a modest academic salary. And I was full of resentment. If my friend’s family were the subject of the movie, the choice of who to kill would be obvious.
That’s not giving anything away about the film, which asks the protagonists to choose between one of their own — two dads (Jonathan Groff and Ben Aldridge) and their 7-year-old daughter — and the rest of humanity. But it is a spoiler to reveal the one who gets it, in the end, doesn’t die because of his shortcomings. Quite the opposite: the believer takes the fall for the rest of us.
If that sounds familiar, maybe you’ve heard of the Bible or a guy named Jesus. In Shyamalan’s hands, this story of the Apocalypse, while modest at its center compared to movies like Michael Tolkin’s The Rapture and Damon Lindelof’s The Leftovers, manages operatic moments of mass death, or “plagues,” in biblical parlance. Planes falling from the sky are like super-sized versions of the bodies dropping from buildings in Shyamalan’s The Happening, so harrowing for the movie’s proximity to 9/11. Death is a fetish for the director.
It also offers a portrait of domestic bliss, with Daddy Eric and Daddy Andrew on vacation in the woods with their adopted daughter, enjoying a quiet weekend of board games, campfires, and swimming in the lake. A walk to the dock speaks volumes as Aldridge rips his shirt off (applause) and Groff jumps in fully clothed before the four horsemen arrive to rock their world.
What makes Knock at the Cabin novel among the genre is those gay dads, who show up in theaters just days after another apocalyptic story, The Last of Us, gave us a 75-minute episode dedicated to a gay-virgin prepper and his newfound love.
These are the Gays at the Apocalypse.
What are they doing here?
It gives something away about The Last of Us by revealing that both the gay-virgin prepper and his new friend are no more by the episode’s end. The one-off detour in creator Craig Mazin’s screen adaptation of the wildly popular video game is an expansion of the game’s prepper character, whom players may or may not have known was gay in the original.
One feature of the series that works so well is how Mazin replicates the sensation of moving through a video game’s levels, here with the main characters played by Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey. We meet characters along the way who may die in front of us or show up later, depending. For the show, Mazin chose to pull over and spend an entire episode with prepper Bill in the suburban fortress he builds and lives in alone. And then Frank shows up.
It’s love at first sight for Bill, played with curmudgeonly aplomb by Nick Offerman, who finds Frank (Murray Barlett) in a tiger trap pit, part of Bill’s elaborate Swiss Family Robinson defenses. And it’s adorable.
Excuse Mazin’s choice to put the gays in bed right away when holding hands on the couch would have been so much more touching. Still, touching is what we get in an awkward coupling that’s cute on its own terms, but probably the result of a story meeting that asked, “Why shouldn’t we see two men make love, just like we would with a straight couple?” and the answer should have been Lisa Kudrow’s Valerie Cherish catchphrase, because “No one wants to see that.” Nick Offerman is no Ben Aldridge.
But the feeling is real, and we’re lucky to share their time together over 20 years as the couple keep house, argue, share romantic dinners and favorite songs, and make the best of their apocalyptic situation. This is how you make love.
It also gets to what Bill and Frank and Daddy Eric and Daddy Andrew are all doing at the Apocalypse in the first place.
Mazin and Shyamalan have taken advantage of the fact that right now, in what sometimes seems like our own End Times, LGBTQ+ people are persecuted, dispossessed, and abused. They are the biblical equivalent of the sick and the blind, the secular version of your tired and poor. They are innocents. They are love.
Wen’s gay dads are so full of love for their daughter and each other that it rips your heart apart. Bill and Frank’s love for one another, in the void they occupy, is literally all-consuming — one can’t live without the other.
And in the battle of good against evil at the Apocalypse, all you have is love (and probably a lot of guns if you want to walk away in one piece).
It made me think about my friend and her poet husband. They’ve been together for over 20 years and have raised a bright, self-possessed daughter. Who am I to judge how they live their lives or the choices my friend has made? They are full of love for one another, and that, it seems, is what counts.