For die-hards, no horror movie can be too scary. But for you, a wimp, the wrong one can leave you miserable. Never fear, scaredies, because Slate’s Scaredy Scale is here to help. We’ve put together a highly scientific and mostly spoiler-free system for rating new horror movies, comparing them with classics along a 10-point scale. And because not everyone is scared by the same things—some viewers can’t stand jump scares, while others are haunted by more psychological terrors or can’t stomach arterial spurts—it breaks down each movie’s scares across three criteria: suspense, spookiness, and gore.
This time, the Scaredy Scale takes on Knock at the Cabin, the new movie from The Sixth Sense’s M. Night Shyamalan. As you’d expect from the director of Split and Old, the movie about a beach that makes you old, Knock starts from a potentially terrifying premise. On vacation at a remote cabin with their 7-year-old daughter, Eric (Jonathan Groff) and Andrew (Ben Aldridge) are approached by four mysterious strangers, led by the bulky but soft-spoken Leonard (Dave Bautista). Their message is simple: The world is about to end, and the only thing that can stop it is for one member of their family of three to voluntarily kill another. Pretty scary, right? But just how scary is a trip to this Cabin? Let’s do the math.
Knock’s entire premise is built on suspense: Will one of these loving dads kill the other or their sweet little daughter in order to stop the end from getting too nigh? The stakes don’t get much higher, and Shyamalan is an old hand at keeping the screws tight. The four strangers say they’re not allowed to kill any family member themselves, but that doesn’t mean they can’t inflict nonlethal damage, and who knows how firmly they’re attached to their beliefs, anyway? After the plot progresses to a certain point, though, you feel pretty sure how things are going to go, and only Shyamalan’s reputation for last-minute twists keeps you wondering if the seemingly inevitable might be a little bit evitable.
Paul Tremblay’s source novel, The Cabin at the End of the World, is full of loving descriptions of pulped flesh and streaming rivulets of blood. But Shyamalan’s version is, if not exactly bloodless, almost chaste in its depictions. The handmade weapons—or rather “tools,” as Leonard puts it—that the strangers show up toting, long wooden staffs with ends of snarled metal and sledgehammer heads, obviously aren’t just there for show, but we hear much more than we ever see, to the extent that it’s a little puzzling how this movie earned its R rating. That said, if the words “thunk” and “squish” make you squeamish, come prepared.
The movie’s isolated location means that the impending end of the world has to be something we feel more than experience firsthand: Occasional TV reports seem to make it clear that things on the outside are not going well, but for the most part it’s the strangers’ growing desperation that has to convince us the doomsday clock is ticking, and ticking fast. Whether it’s the product of god, some unknown evil, or just their collective delusion remains very much an open question, but any way you slice it, it’s pretty unnerving, and especially if you’re the type to have nightmares about the end of days.
This isn’t M. Night’s most frightening movie or his creepiest, although it might be his saddest. Knock at the Cabin is more interested in testing the bonds of family than he is making you jump in your seat. But if you’re scared of crying, feel free to bump that up to a 10.