The Language of Horror: Ishana Night Shyamalan on The Watchers | Interviews

June 8, 2024 - Movies

I’m sure we all feel this way, but I do think as an artist and just as a human being, I have this sort of darker instinct within. There are moments for me when I realize the depth of my dark thoughts and how terrifying I can be. I enjoy the thrill of tapping into that and creating with that voice a little bit. Working within the horror genre helps me be more truthful and touch base with how I perceive the world. 

It is a great genre for disruption. I’m thinking about some of the most eerie shots in the film, such as when Mina’s car breaks down in the forest. The way we see her car, it’s as if the trees around her are like prison bars. Can you talk more about the visual language of crafting some of those scares? I’m curious if those were scenes you had in mind and then shot or maybe were found in the edit. 

I had this one director friend on Servant who gave me some amazing advice. He said, “If you can’t see the scene play out in your head while you’re writing the script, it’s not right. There’s something wrong with it.” I heeded that thought intensely when going into shooting, I needed to see every shot beforehand. I’m the type of director where I know the cut points for my shots. I was trying to play a bit, though. There were so many graphic angles, and with my crew, we were trying to find the most uncomfortable way we could frame something, which often meant more headroom, more negative space in a frame, and shooting through things … we wanted that feeling of discomfort in every frame where nothing is exactly what you want to see or hear. Things are either too close, or they’re too far. 

We also used these vintage rehoused lenses, which give the whole film this weird vignette and this expansive feel. 

You’ve stated that while your father’s filming style is very grounded in history and reality, you’re embracing an element of maximalism. The film is also very restrained in many elements, though, particularly when you choose to reveal the titular Watchers. What went into crafting those moments of restraint and then cathartic release? 

Much of that is tied to who I am as a person. I like to be restrained and mysterious and keep everything closed in. Then I’ll have these emotional bursts. Inevitably, the movie structure became that as well, where it’s very pinned up and holding back, and then there are these pops of information, fear, and emotion. Some of that structure also came through test screenings. I’d watch it also to see where people began to slump in the film. A lot of creating that dance was through trial and error. 

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