Meaning behind the film Ishana Night Shyamalan

[This story contains spoilers for The Watchers.]

As an artist, it is not an easy task to define yourself, to present a perspective and a style that differentiates you from others. And it is always this “other” who occupies an important place, having an impact on your perception and that of others. This is certainly the case for Mina (Dakota Fanning), a directionless young artist whose car breaks down in the ancient woods of Ireland where she finds herself lost, in more ways than one, in The Observersbased on the novel by AM Shine.

The film marks the feature directorial debut of 24-year-old Ishana Night Shyamalan, daughter of cinematic storyteller M. Night Shyamalan. Young Shyamalan cut her teeth as producer and director of her father’s Apple+ series Servantand as second unit director of M. Night’s beach horror feature, Old (2021). With The observers, Ishana Shyamalan attempts to define herself as her own artist, while her father’s shadow, the one created by the public and the studios, looms large, both in terms of influence and public prejudices and expectations which both helped and hindered his career. It’s the story of two women, one a fictional character in a horror film steeped in folklore, and the other the writer and director of that film, who find their way out of the woods.

How we are monitored influences our behavior. Even when we are told to “just act natural,” there is an element of performance. This is something Mina quickly discovers, despite her initial resistance, when she is introduced to the Coop by Madeline (Olwen Fouere), where she meets two other captives, the naively optimistic Ciara (Georgina Campbell) and the emotionally unstable and enigmatic Daniel (Oliver Finnegan).

The Coop, a refuge from the outside world at night, consists of a single large room and a two-way mirror that stretches across the exterior wall. This is where Mina and the others reside at night, staring at their reflections, while outside The Coop, the Watchers study them and applaud them… if they follow the rules. During the day, they are free to roam the woods as they please, up to a certain point, as long as they return before sunset and stay away from the burrows where the Watchers dwell. It’s in these unnoticed moments that characters are allowed to be their most human selves. It’s a fantasy horror concept from Shine, one that Shyamalan gets a lot of mileage out of, playing with the passage of time, looming shadows, and broken rules. But there is also a subtext underlying these nocturnal performances that makes The observers all the more unique.

Ishana Night Shyamalan and M. Night Shyamalan at Observers world premiere in New York.

Steven Ferdman/WireImage

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