The Watchers director Ishana Night Shyamalan talks horror, nepotism in Hollywood

The filmmaker and daughter of Oscar-nominee M. Night Shyamalan has made her directorial debut.

click to enlarge Director Ishana Night Shyamalan (right) speaks to actress Dakota Fanning on the set of The Watchers. - Courtesy Photo / Warner Bros.
Courtesy Photo / Warner Bros.
Director Ishana Night Shyamalan (right) speaks to actress Dakota Fanning on the set of The Watchers.
Writer-director Ishana Night Shyamalan, daughter of Oscar-nominee M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense), isn’t just following her dad into the movie business. She also shares his affinity for frightening viewers.

In her directorial debut, The Watchers, Shyamalan tells the story of Mina (Dakota Fanning), an American immigrant in Ireland, who learns of the existence of mythical creatures after she becomes lost in the forest.

These creatures, known as Watchers, visit Mina and a group of forest-dwelling inhabitants who are forced to stay inside a bunker where the fabled beings monitor them nightly each. The Watchers is based on a 2022 novel of the same name by author A.M. Shine.

During a recent interview with the Current, Shyamalan, 24, talked about watching horror movies as a kid and what it was like visiting the movie sets of her father’s films. She also shared her take on nepotism in Hollywood.

The Watchers is currently playing at theaters nationwide.

What is your first memory of the horror genre?

I watched a lot of horror as a kid. We were shown quite a bit of it. The Ring was one of my favorites. It was very much something we enjoyed doing as kids. My sisters and I enjoyed scaring each other. I fell in love with the language at a very young age.

Did you seek out classic horror films as well?

I did. I grew up with a bit of cinema history. I think we watched Poltergeist early on. We would watch a lot of Hitchcock. We watched a lot of Spielberg. As I got older, I dove into exploring my own things. I’m very interested in the journey of different auteurs. I'm trying to inundate myself as much as possible with the history of cinema.

Was it always the plan to write a movie that had a twist ending since that’s been your dad’s MO for most of his career?

I was interested in thinking about what the expectations would be based on my dad's career and playing with that a bit and cheekily making it my own. So, it was definitely something I was conscious of. But it was more in the nature of how I felt a good story should unfold. This one, in particular, had so many surprises, which I loved.

What elements of A.M. Shine’s novel did you recognize would translate well to the screen?

There were so many wonderful elements about the book. It's such a fresh, exciting novel to me. The way the story goes and how it expands into another genre was profound to me. As I was reading it and as certain things were revealed, I was like, “Oh, my god, this is just so cool!” It took my brain to really interesting places. I felt like I would be really happy thinking about this world for a year or two. It felt so wondrous to me.

How did growing up on movie sets prompt you to pursue a career in filmmaking?

I think there was probably a lot of observation I did as a kid. I was always watching the monitor and was really interested in how images shift from take one to the final take. I was honing my tastes as I was a kid and watching those things. They were innumerable lessons. In those experiences, I felt the magic of the process.

So, seeing how movies are made behind the scenes didn’t take any of the magic away?

It definitely added to the magic; the notion that something could be an idea, and then you watch the whole process. Then, when you watch the movie, it feels like a novelty. It's like you're experiencing it with a baby's eyes. I love that piece of it. You put so much work in, and then the product is something that stands alone.

What were you looking for when you put together your ensemble cast led by Dakota Fanning?

For me, it was very much about the alchemy of them. I really wanted this feeling that you could understand the world you were in by … seeing each of [the characters] be equally vibrant, which I feel these four actors are. They're incredible actors that bring so much truth and so much buoyancy to the screen.

You obviously have your own vision and style as a filmmaker, but I think every director would admit that they steal from other directors. What have you stolen or borrowed from watching your dad?

I really admire his ability to create tension. I don't think I have that as innately as he does. So, I looked to him for that. He does that effortlessly [and] puts together really scary sequences. I love how he does that.

What's your take on nepotism in Hollywood these days? Do you feel like some people get opportunities that others don’t because of who they are related to in the industry?

I think it's a totally valid conversation at this moment for me. I see it, and I get why there's a feeling about it. I mean, my approach to it is basically to acknowledge it and sort of move from that place with gratitude and knowing that I have that privilege. I try to be the best person and the hardest working artist that I can be. I think that's really what's in my control at this moment.

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