Note: This article includes spoilers for Knock at the Cabin

The Trolley Dilemma just got a spine-chilling makeover.

M. Night Shyamalan’s latest thriller, Knock at the Cabin, may not have his best plot twists, which longtime fans have so thoroughly enjoyed. However, its assessment of religion, death, and sacrifice is no less haunting as Shyamalan brings an age-old philosophical dilemma to the silver screen. Namely, is it worth one person dying in order to save many?

The film’s opening scene is dizzying and claustrophobic, yet serene. Wen (Kristen Cui) kneels in the field outside her family’s vacation home, catching grasshoppers. The yellow-green light produced by the warm sunshine filtering through the trees sets the peaceful mood. Then a burly man in ‘80s-era glasses enters the scene, his body nearly covered in tattoos. Leonard (Dave Bautista) is overpowering in stature, and a stranger to Wen. The conversation they have sounds creepy and dangerous, though the film later reveals that Leonard is genuinely meek. Nevertheless, he and his three friends come bearing weapons inspired by dreams they’ve collectively experienced. The four of them feel tasked with an eternal weight: to stop the apocalypse.

Wen and her two fathers, Eric (Jonathan Groff) and Andrew (Ben Aldridge), are smart. As a gay couple, Eric and Andrew have experienced discrimination—even violence—because of their relationship. Naturally, they feel that Leonard et al. are infiltrating their family getaway because of bigotry. Shyamalan makes it seem like the four doomsday preppers have only false motivations—e.g., bigotry, religious radicalization, mental illness—and not that they might actually be telling the truth about the world’s eventual demise.

Andrew is the skeptic while Eric is the doubter. Filled with rage at the audacity of such claims, Andrew sees—indeed, he looks for—every objection to the notion that a group of rag-tag laypeople could actually be right about the world’s fate. Eric, though doubtful, upset, and worried about his family’s well-being, shows sentiment for these intruders. Andrew sees Leonard the barbarian; Eric sees Leonard the school teacher.

But herein lies the movie’s truly haunting premise: the posse’s warning has been true all along. The world is ending, and it’s up to two gay parents to make the ultimate sacrifice to stop it. Nearly choking on the lump in his throat, Leonard briefs the vacationers: “The three of you are going to have to make some tough decisions. Terrible decisions. And I wish with all my broken heart that you didn’t have to.”

Perhaps the underlying message of the Trolley Dilemma, the Gospel story, and Knock at the Cabin is that in the midst of unthinkable tragedy and impending doom, Jesus Christ did what no one else would.

It’s not Redmond’s (Rupert Grint) perceived bigotry, Adriane’s (Abby Quinn) naïveté, Sabrina’s (Nikki Amuka-Bird) religiosity, or Leonard’s devotion to prophetic dreams, supposedly from a higher being, that makes this film so devastating. Rather, it’s the fact that every catastrophic event (e.g., planes falling from the sky, tsunamis on the coast, a fast-growing plague) is real, and can only be stopped by sacrificing a family member. For every party involved in this sick scenario, the cost is high. The intruders don’t want to force Eric and Andrew to kill anyone, but they are entirely convinced that it’s the only way to stop the apocalypse. They’re asking a family of three to painfully downsize and they convey the depth of their belief by doing the same thing, killing themselves off one by one.

While M. Night Shyamalan’s latest feature film is a scathing rebuke of the always-wrong “doomsday preacher,” it also raises a question about the end of time as we know it: What would you do if it was all real?

Philosophy is often the study of unanswerable questions. The Trolley Dilemma is one of those philosophical hypotheticals that forces compromise. Even if there is a potential solution to the Trolley Dilemma, its purpose remains to pierce to the heart of what it means to be human. The dilemma is as follows:

Imagine you are standing beside some tram tracks. In the distance, you spot a runaway trolley hurtling down the tracks towards five workers who cannot hear it coming. Even if they do spot it, they won’t be able to move out of the way in time.

As this disaster looms, you glance down and see a lever connected to the tracks. You realize that if you pull the lever, the tram will be diverted down a second set of tracks away from the five unsuspecting workers.

However, down this side track is one lone worker, just as oblivious as his colleagues.

So, would you pull the lever, leading to one death but saving five?

Within this hypothetical and (hopefully) unrealistic scenario is the blunt truth that to act is to let someone die; in fact, even doing nothing as the trolley hurtles by will let someone die. The question of a person’s worth comes into play. Is it better to save one person or five? To answer in favor of saving five seems more economical than humane while saving one seems less humanitarian and more self-serving. Thus, the Trolley Dilemma bears no moral good in the complete sense, except if the one man on the railroad willingly dies to save the others.

In Knock at the Cabin, Shyamalan offers such an exception, altering the Trolley Dilemma to include what neither railroad party had: the ability to choose. Even if Eric and Andrew are convinced that the world is ending, that’s merely the beginning of their journey. To stop the apocalypse, one of them must choose to die for the sake of billions. Shyamalan, in essence, throws the Trolley Dilemma into the blender with a story of sacrifice that’s eerily similar to that of Jesus Christ.

The resulting story is a rebuke of religiosity—Andrew never liked Eric’s religious roots and surely doesn’t enjoy the same lingo coming from the people terrorizing his family—that seeks to drain the Christian story of its seriousness concerning the end of the world (rightfully condemning radicals along the way) while keeping the sentiment of ultimate sacrifice as manifested in Jesus Christ.

A common theme in the horror-thriller genre is the incapability of human will to stop supernatural forces, with a plethora of horror films realizing this via depictions of demonic possession. Knock at the Cabin, however, takes the opposite approach, placing an unbearable responsibility—the ability to truly change the world—on its characters. What Eric eventually sacrifices for the salvation of mankind should never have been borne by a mere man yet the distinct humanness with which he bore it—happily, though fearfully and dreadfully—is a minimum requirement for any sacrifice for the world. Perhaps the underlying message of the Trolley Dilemma, the Gospel story, and Knock at the Cabin is that in the midst of unthinkable tragedy and impending doom, Jesus Christ did what no one else would. Indeed, he did what no one else could.

Eric may be seen as a Messiah figure—if only in the last few minutes of his life—but there are key distinctions between his sacrifice and Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. First, Jesus foreknew the pain of the cross and willingly subjected himself to God’s plan for salvation (Mark 8:31; Matthew 26:39). In contrast, Eric opposes the very notion of sacrifice until Leonard kills himself; his doubts become buried under the devotion of the now-dead intruders. Second, Jesus’ sacrifice brought salvation in this life and the next. Surely, Eric gave up his life—his last breath spent smiling, staring into his husband’s eyes—to save the world from an immediate threat. Jesus, however, died for more than the temporal earth’s preservation. In his death, he became the propitiation for the sins of the world (1 John 2:2). In his resurrection, he sealed his promise to carry us from the “heaven and earth [which] will pass away,” (Matthew 24:35), and onward to what Christian in John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress deemed “the Celestial City,” that is Heaven.

Knock at the Cabin is chilling. The second act in particular is a fast-paced thrill, fit with danger and even the prospect of Eric, Andrew, and Wen’s escape. For a horror-thriller movie, it surprisingly doesn’t contain any outright gore; every sacrifice that the intruders make is not directly shown. This filmmaking approach begs the viewer to construct off-screen what was implied on-screen, a tactic well-used in psychological thrillers such as Smile.

Following a semi-hopeful second act (which ultimately ends with no successful escape), the message that the family’s sacrifice is the only way to stop the impending doom reminds viewers that there is only one thing worth believing as the world comes to its end: we must trust in one man’s ultimate sacrifice. Whether Eric and Andrew make this sacrifice, they must trust that it will truly work despite spending much of the movie trying to escape. The responsibility is upon them to save the world, but their limited knowledge of the sacrifice is daunting.

M. Night Shyamalan’s rendition of The Trolley Dilemma forces us to reckon with our limited capabilities. We can’t truly save the world; in the end, we can’t stop death from reaching those we love. We must, instead, hope for someone who can. “What would you do if it was all real?” Thankfully, not all of this maddening story is real, but the inevitable end of our time on earth is. We can make little sacrifices for our loved ones and express belief in the sacred meaning of life right now, but we must ultimately look to the savior of the eventually-ending world.

Jesus, who is seated at the right hand of God, with everything under his control (Hebrews 1:3), is that person in whom we may place all our trust. When doubt and uncertainty about the future of the world creeps in, we look to Jesus as the founder and perfecter of our faith on both this earth and the new earth (Hebrews 12:2; Revelation 21:1–4).

Faced with the question, “Was it worth one person dying to save many?” we answer: “Yes. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is worth it. He is more than enough!” For only in Jesus is the complete humanness (like Eric’s) required to make a sacrifice for the sins and brokenness of the world, paired with the perfect deity of God—the hypostatic union. Jesus’ sacrifice is not only enough to pay for the sins of the world, but his kingship and deity are our hope beyond time and into eternity.