The Watchers Dakota Fanning Ishana Night Shyamalan interview

Ishana Night Shyamalan on her directorial debut The Watchers, and growing up Shyamalan

We spoke with the filmmaker about her eerie thriller and the spoiler-free childhood that allowed her to enjoy her dad’s movies like everyone else.

Two months before the release of the new M. Night Shyamalan film Trap, his daughter Ishana Night Shyamalan is releasing her directorial debut, The Watchers.

Adapted from A.M. Shine’s Irish-set novel of the same name, the film follows Mina (Dakota Fanning), a woman tasked with transporting a parrot from the small Galway pet shop where she works to a zoo in Belfast. Driving through a forest on the way there, her car breaks down and she loses signal. As she wanders around looking for signs of human life, a murder of crows rushes across the forest canopy. There must be some sinister Irish magic at work here. A white-haired woman appears between the trees and beckons her into a bunker before the sun sets. Inside, she meets Ciara (Georgina Campbell) and Daniel (Oliver Finnegan), both of whom have been stuck there for months. But neither have been there as long as Madeleine (Olwen Fouéré), the white-haired woman. As the unelected leader, she instructs them to never venture beyond the forest’s perimeters and to always return to the coop before dark. Once inside, they must present themselves to the Watchers. They stand facing the glass as bodies ready to be observed by creatures they cannot see. But who watches The Watchers?

Like her father’s films, The Watchers’ plot is full of holes and dialogue that has as much subtlety as a slap across the face. But another trait that The Watchers shares with her father’s films is that it operates on its own fantastical logic that will absorb you if you’re willing to let its shortcomings slide.

I sat down with Ishana Night Shyamalan for a brief chat over Zoom.

The Watchers Ishana Night Shyamalan interview

Sarah Foulkes: I was thinking about plot twists and the sadness, in a way, of a filmmaker that doesn’t get to experience the plot twist like the audience does. Since this is an adaptation of the book, was that experience different for you? 

Ishana Night Shyamalan: Absolutely. I think that one of the joys is that I got to experience what people feel when they’re watching the movie just when I was reading the book. I had no knowledge of what it was gonna be like, of what the journey of the book was gonna be. So it was very, very, shocking and unexpected for me. And I loved that I was quite surprised by the book.

SF: Actually, when you were watching The Sixth Sense and all of your dad’s movies, did you know the spoilers beforehand or were they kept from you? 

Ishana Night Shyamalan: They were kept from me. I don’t know how my dad maintained that secret, but somehow he did. So I watched very much like anyone else, and was totally shocked. 

SF: That’s good parenting in action.

Ishana Night Shyamalan: Absolutely.

The Watchers Ishana Night Shyamalan interview

SF: Something that I’m really interested in about horror filmmakers in particular is this decision to show the monster or not show the monster. How do you make that decision as a filmmaker?

Ishana Night Shyamalan: I was very interested in that feeling of pushing the boundaries of what the audience was willing to watch without actually being given anything. So it was just like the idea of both teasing one tiny piece after another and you’re just very slowly expanding your knowledge of this space and this place. And then it creates a more massive payoff at some point during the movie where you get to learn what kind of space you’re in, what kind of movie you’re in. And so I was really enjoying that kind of restraint there. And it was very much a process of both shifting around pieces of the script structurally in outline form, and then playing with that in the edit, removing things or adding things, shifting them around until we had this balance of showing it just enough as you move through.

SF: Yeah. It works super well. And I imagine that you’ve heard this before, but the ways in which The Watchers are discussed in the film reminds me a lot of the way that we talk about AI now. 

Ishana Night Shyamalan: Absolutely. 

SF: Do you feel like this film functions as an allegory?

Ishana Night Shyamalan: I wouldn’t say it’s so literally about AI. All this stuff around AI was happening as I was working on the script, which was kind of weird for me that I was seeing this imagery that seemed so interrelated to what I was writing about. What is palpable in that theme is the idea that we could all be replicated. Maybe we’re not so specific and unique. And I think that is sort of what I fear in AI. Can my creativity be replicated or replaced? That fear is there in the movie. ■

The Watchers (directed by Ishana Night Shyamalan)

This article was originally published in June 2024 issue of Cult MTL.

The Watchers opens in Montreal theatres on Friday, June 7.

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