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Young Night Shyamalan talks movie, horror

By Rosa Cartagena, The Philadelphia Inquirer
Published: June 15, 2024, 6:00am

PHILADELPHIA — The new horror movie “The Watchers,” now in theaters, comes from a director whose family name you know, but whose filmmaking style you’ll see for the first time on the big screen: Ishana Night Shyamalan.

One of three daughters of renowned local director M. Night Shyamalan and his wife Bhavna, Ishana is the only other filmmaker in her family. Her father, of course, has been a big influence: from encouraging a love of horror to providing training grounds on his own sets. While studying at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts — where her parents first met — she directed episodes of his Apple TV+ show “Servant.” Now Ishana Shyamalan is making her own feature debut with “The Watchers,” an adaptation she wrote of A.M. Shine’s 2022 novel of the same name.

Set in an eerie Irish forest, the story follows Mina (Dakota Fanning), a troubled American working at a pet shop. When her car breaks down, she gets lost in the woods. Mina thinks she’s saved when she finds three others, but soon learns that they are all trapped. Every night they lock themselves in a one-way mirror structure, forced to perform for invisible supernatural creatures who watch their every move. In true Shyamalan fashion, the ending packs several reveals.

Shyamalan spoke to The Inquirer to discuss growing up in the Philadelphia suburbs and the scary stories she learned from her dad.

Do you still live around Willistown Township, where your family is based?

I actually live in New York now, but I’m in Philly all the time. My dad has a studio out in the suburbs. He’s got a great setup there of editing rooms and a beautiful, kind of Atmos theater, so I cut (“The Watchers”) there, fully.

What was it like growing up in the Philly suburbs?

Loved the experience. I went to school around there [at The Baldwin School] and it was such a blissful, joyous childhood for me — lots of playing in nature and taking walks, running around with my friends. We would come to Philly on special occasions for birthday dinners and things like that.

The forest is such a terrifying and mystifying place in “The Watchers” and in your dad’s films, like “The Village” and “Knock at the Cabin.” Did you develop your love — and maybe fear — of woods around here?

I was always, always in forest spaces, like Ridley Creek State Park, which was close to where we lived. We used to live out in Gladwyne and we had this backyard full of trees. My sister and I would go play in that and imagine all those things. Throughout my life, I have found solace and excitement in going to those kinds of forested spaces, for sure.

It’s not too surprising that you became a horror fan very young. Did your dad tell you and your sisters scary stories?

Yeah, so my elder sister and I shared a room, we were in these two little twin beds. For the majority of our childhood, he would tell us bedtime stories — these incredibly elaborate stories that would go on for weeks at a time. We’d listen to them every night and cry when he said the chapter was over. Being primed for the horror genre, we were sort of inundated with so much of it as kids. It taught me that there can be enjoyment and a lot of emotional depth in the process of feeling scared. It’s not necessarily something to run from, but maybe something to lean into a bit more.

What were some of your favorite horror stories?

I was deeply into all the classic horror movies. “The Ring” was a big one for me. “The Exorcist.” “The Omen.” I was always reading “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark,” that was my favorite book as a kid.