Into the Woods: Ishana Night Shyamalan on Fantasy-Horror The Watchers

What one rainy fieldtrip taught her about Ireland

Writer/director Ishana Night Shyamalan on the set of The Watchers (in theatres now from New Line Cinema and Warner Bros. Pictures) with cast members Olwen Fouéré, Oliver Finnegan, and Georgina Campbell. (Image Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

It’s easy to set a movie in a country or place. Yet as Ishana Night Shyamalan learned, it’s only when your boots are on the soil that you can really understand the location and its people.

That was the lesson for the writer/director (and daughter of M. Night Shyamalan) with her debut feature, The Watchers. In it, American artist Mina (Dakota Fanning) finds herself trapped in a giant terrarium with a handful of strangers. They call it the Coop, a strange structure in the depths of the forests of Connemara in Western Ireland, and within its walls they are all under the watchful and terrifying gaze of mysterious entities on the other side of a one-way mirror.

The film, which arrives in theatres this weekend, is based on the 2021 Gothic horror novel of the same name by Irish author A. M. Shine. Shyamalan said she was always interested in working in the “fantasy-horror intersection,” and when the book was brought to her, “I read it with no context and was totally taken by it and obsessed by it as a reader.” With it being Shine’s first novel, “there was the blissful timing about us both being on this stage of our journeys together.”

However, Shyamalan is American, and Shine is Irish, and there’s a deeply Irish thread twisted throughout the book. The director said she was “very cognizant that it’s not my world, not something I was too versed in, so I did as much pre-research as I could. … Visuals of Ireland, and walking tours of the cities and talking to friends that I have who are from Ireland.”

“Making her be an American that’s coming in to this world allowed me to be more truthful.” Ishana Night Shyamalan on casting Dakota Fanning as protagonist Mina in The Watchers, in theatres now from New Line Cinema and Warner Bros. Pictures. (Image Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

She also made one significant change from the book, turning Mina from an Irish character to an American, making her (like Shyamalan) the outsider to the story. That way, she said, “making her be an American that’s coming in to this world allowed me to be more truthful about how she’s seeing the environment and how she’s experiencing it, rather than pretending that I know everything about it.”

However, she admitted the script was “in great part incomplete until I scouted in Ireland. … Letting it flow into me and feeling the essence of the place.”

There was one moment that really struck home to her the nature of Ireland in a way she could have never anticipated, as she was out and about with the local location scout. “It was totally rainy,” she recalled. “I was wearing this big coat, and the location scout was wearing a woolen vest and a hat, and that was it. He was totally comfortable in the rain and hiking up these mountains, so that was this one big thing where I understood that the Irish people live with nature in this very specific way. That they live amongst it, and it’s a big part of their lives, so that was very helpful for me to interpret these forest spaces and the outdoor world there.”

The Watchers is in theatres now from Warner Bros. Get showtimes here.

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Ishana Night Shyamalan, The Watchers, Warner Bros.

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