M. Night Shyamalan may have a flair for horror, but he says he's just a 'silly, fun-loving guy'
The director shared how his spiritual views influenced his new apocalyptic thriller, Knock at the Cabin
The full interview with M. Night Shyamalan is available on our podcast, Q with Tom Power. Listen and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.
M. Night Shyamalan has been scaring mainstream moviegoers since the release of The Sixth Sense nearly 25 years ago, but by his own account, he's just a "silly, fun-loving guy."
The director said he feels "comfortable going to darker places" in his films because his work is grounded in a spiritual world view that holds a fundamental belief in the benevolence of the universe.
"There's a human being, that genuinely believes in the good of people, telling you a dark story, but you're going to punch through that with the characters to kind of a different world view," he said in a new interview on Q with Tom Power.
WATCH | M. Night Shyamalan's interview with Tom Power:
Shyamalan's latest film, Knock at the Cabin, is an apocalyptic thriller based on Paul Tremblay's 2018 novel The Cabin at the End of the World. The story follows a family of three, who are vacationing at a remote cabin when they're suddenly held hostage by four strangers who demand they sacrifice one of their own to prevent the apocalypse.
"There's so many ways to take that premise," said Shyamalan. "You start to question whether it's real or not. And then I can Ping-Pong you back and forth through that."
The film's ending significantly diverges from the book, which the director attributes to a difference between his perspective on life and the author's.
"This isn't about dark versus light," he explained. "It is about nihilism, that ultimately when you're telling a story and you go too far … that is because the author or the storyteller genuinely feels in a dark place.…
"That is not the case with me. And so I actually feel that I can do darker things, even.… But you can sense that it isn't about me trying to bring you to a dark place and hold you where I am in this kind of hopelessness, if that makes sense."
WATCH | Official trailer for Knock at the Cabin:
On the role of religion and spirituality in his life and work
Like many of his films, Knock at the Cabin is influenced by Christian ideas, drawing on biblical narratives like the story of Abraham and Isaac. While Shyamalan was raised Hindu and attended Catholic school for 10 years, he said he considers himself to be "pretty spiritual," but not religious.
"I do have a lot of thoughts about things in that realm beyond what we can touch and feel, but [I'm] not a huge fan of organized religion — although I'm very fascinated by it," he said. "So it comes into my movies a lot."
The old, “Only Hindu in Catholic School” class photo. Hail Marys at school... Ganesh stories at home. Signs, Split, The Sixth Sense etc in the movie theaters. <a href="https://t.co/vi5cGLx3fJ">pic.twitter.com/vi5cGLx3fJ</a>—@MNightShyamalan
Shyamalan's directorial debut, Praying with Anger, is a semi-autobiographical drama about a young Indian American man's return to India to explore his heritage and Hinduism. His second film, Wide Awake, is a comedy-drama about a boy in a Catholic school who embarks on a quest for the meaning of life.
But Shyamalan's interest in religious themes isn't just something that permeates his films, it's also a framework he uses to make sense of his own story when he was coming up as a young filmmaker.
Wide Awake was bought in a bidding war by Harvey Weinstein at Miramax, who put Shyamalan through the wringer, criticizing his work as being "too sentimental, too emotional [and] too overly spiritual."
When Shyamalan was finally able to "face the demon" that was Weinstein (whom he called "one of the historical monsters of all time"), he managed to break free of his ironclad Miramax contract by writing his third film, The Sixth Sense, which became a cultural phenomenon in 1999.
The director told Power he had to go through a lot of pain and failure before he had his breakthrough, but maintaining faith in his creative vision was ultimately what led him to where he is today.
"The universe wants you to grow," he said about his spiritual beliefs. "So you have to be careful how you're interpreting the things that are happening to you. When something bad happens to us … it's actually an accelerant for growth. And ultimately, that's [why] I believe everything is meant for us."
Written by Vivian Rashotte. Interview produced by Catherine Stockhausen.