How The Watchers Explores Irish Folklore to Amplify Its Frights

Producer M. Night Shyamalan—a name all horror fans are familiar with—presents The Watchers, directed by a name they’ll soon learn: Ishana Night Shyamalan. The feature from the Servant filmmaker is based on the book by A.M. Shine; it follows Dakota Fanning as Mina, an artist who gets lost in a mysterious, untouched Irish woodland.

Mina is invited into a shelter with three strangers, led by Madeline (Olwen Fouéré), all trapped by supernatural creatures known as the Watchers, who demand performances from their human captives nightly. io9 recently spoke to director Ishana Shyamalan and Georgina Campbell, who co-stars as one of the other captives.

Sabina Graves, io9: Ishana, I’m a folklore reader and loved the approach to the creepy fantastical lore in the film. What came first for you—the desire to tackle mythology, or the novel the film’s inspired by?

Ishana Shyamalan: [The mythology’s] kind of embedded into the book, but it very much was that element, the sort of folklore thing, that made me certain that I wanted to do this book. I thought it was such a cool kind of mythology that I hadn’t really seen. And just like you, I’m obsessed with thinking about folklore and reading it, so it felt perfect.

io9: We won’t reveal the nature of the woodland creatures but I thought they were super eerie and scary. Were the concepts completed by the shoot or did the cast have to imagine them?

Georgina Campbell: It was imagined. Yeah, it was an imagined thing.

Shyamalan: I had sent them each sort of a lookbook beforehand with sketches, just like very rough sketches, of what they would look like. But [I] wanted to sort of keep it as mysterious as possible for them. And, for me, it was about this sort of family dynamic at the center, that they’re sort of spiraling and spinning around each other and afraid of even just the possibility of something on the outside. So that kind of helped us, I think, keep it in a grounded space.

io9: The ensemble really go through it in the woods and hardly break away from one another. What was it like crafting the dynamic between these strangers who need to trust each other to survive? 

Shyamalan: I think I just so happened to find these four electric actors who are all so specific and have their own kind of quality of being, and are so buoyant and fantastic. It was very much about the chemistry of the family dynamic. So mother, sisters, brother—that kind of feeling, and playing with the people who I felt could bring that out in each other.

The Watchers

Image: New Line Cinema

Campbell: It’s all in the script, really. I feel like all the women, Olwen [was] just so enigmatic, and you are enraptured by her. When she’s on set, the way that she talks, the way that she’s very passionate, that [fits] the idea of her character being the leader and being what everyone looks up to. And then obviously Dakota comes in and she’s kind of the outsider. She’s the new person that comes in. Building the relationship with her over filming was really interesting. It was great working with both of them.

io9: What was the best part of evoking that sort of classical fairytale journey in the woods during the shoot—was that intentional while filming?

Shyamalan: I was really drawn to the sort of Grimms’ fairy tale structure. And I thought it was really cool to kind of play with that classical approach to storytelling, where it’s like a very clean story of a character coming into a world, and then it just expands and expands and expands. So that’s very much, to me, the style of the movie is paying homage to kind of classic gothic fairy tales.

Campbell: Most of the scenes we’re all together. So it really was about the ensemble. It’s about all of us what’s going on with all of us? How are we all feeling? Which was really fun to play with. [Ishana’s] very intelligent, she knew exactly what she wanted. She came in very prepared but she is also very open to hearing people’s opinions, hearing your idea, which is lovely when you get to be able to kind of have that back and forth. 

The Watchers opens this Friday, June 7.

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