INTERVIEW: M Night Shyamalan On Devil

“It’s a great date movie,” reckons the man who’s written this stuck-in-a-lift-with-the-devil chiller

Devil , which is released tomorrow, is the first of three films going out under the umbrella banner The Night Chronicles which will all feature Shyamalan scripts directed by other filmmakers (the second, Reincarnate , about a haunted jury, was announced this week). SFX talked to Shyamalan about his new venture.

How did The Night Chronicles come about?

“I have a bunch of ideas when I decide to make a movie. I come up with more than one idea sometimes. Not often but sometimes. And I’ll outline, say, two, and I’m not sure which one I’m going to do. But then I’ll decide to go with one and in my mind I’m thinking, ‘I’ll do the other one next.’ But then one and a half years or two years later, when I’ve finished that movie, I just think of some other movie.

“So a few ideas became really fleshed out, and I kept thinking I was going to direct them, and I wanted to direct them, but I was never going to get round to it. Then I said, ‘Why don’t we make them, but I’ll get to some wonderful new filmmakers out there to make them?’ We’ll start a kind of group where we can talk about movies and learn from each other. It felt like a wonderful way to connect with cutting-edge filmmakers.

“So we set up the first three ideas. But it’s not a trilogy. Hopefully, it’ll be a series of movies that we’ll make over time, and these are the first three.”

But is there something more than that connecting them together?

“Basically they are stories that I come up with, and they are usually supernatural thrillers of some kind. That’s the commonality.”

Is the idea that you’ll work with different directors on each one?

“Not on every one. I would love to work with the Dowdles again, who did Devil . They were amazing. So I would bet they would show up again at some point.”

Devil is basically about a bunch of people stuck together in a lift which seems like a limiting setting. Did you deliberately set out thinking, “How can I make something like this into a full movie?”

“Not really. I’d never seen the idea of a movie primarily in an elevator. I just thought it was a cool idea, dealing with the phobia of being stuck in an elevator. I’m interested in phobias; why are we scared of certain situations? The idea of being in an elevator, then adding the horror that one of them in there is not who they say they are, it was a scary premise.”

How much of the film is set in the lift?

“I’m not sure screen-time wise. There is a lot of time spent with the people trying to get them out of the lift and save their lives. But it’s entirely set in one building. So it is claustrophobic.”

So the film sticks to its conceptual guns and doesn’t suddenly open out into a chase movie or Die Hard In An Elevator halfway through?

“Ha ha. No! But strangely, the Dowdles made it an incredibly muscular movie. They really brought that all on their own to the project. I think my original treatment was much more quiet and they brought this great muscularity to it. It feels very big.”

What do you mean by muscularity?

“It’s not talking heads. There’s a physicality to the movie, and the violence of what’s happening.”

What was like seeing somebody else direct your script? The last time that happened was Stuart Little.

“You know, it’s funny. I thought that would be an issue – would I feel emotionally bad? But I didn’t for one second have that feeling. I think primarily because I really, really respect these guys. I thought these guys were fantastic filmmakers and it would be great to work with them.

“I thought of myself more as a goalie. They referred to me as that once. I was there to help them out. They would be the ones playing the game, scoring, playing defence, doing all that, and I would be right back there to help them if anything got by them.”

You were a hands-off producer, then?

“I wasn’t hands-off so much. It was such an open, creative relationship. I really think they’re great, their point of view is inspiring to me, so every time they came up with something, it would always have merit to it. Even if we disagreed on something, they would always have a smart way of positioning their argument, and almost always I would go, ‘If you feel that strongly you should go for it.’

“It was an ideal relationship for my first time out with these movies, my first experience being on this side of it, producing. I would say, for sure, the golden rule is hire some people you respect.”

Do you have a sneaky cameo in Devil ?

“No. I would love to say yes, but no. One of these movies I would love to pop up in the background. But I don’t want to be a distraction, you know? Ideally if you do do it, it should do early in the movie and get out.”

For better or for worse, you’re known as the director who does the twists. Does it irritate you that there’s so much baggage that comes with your name?

“I guess it’s a learning process for me. I still don’t see myself the way other people see me. I don’t think like that. To me I still feel the same way I did when I was 21 and I just closed the door and thought up a story. Every time, I think of it as my first movie. I don’t think with any plot mechanisms or anything like that in mind. So it’s weird, because you don’t want to have, like, a calculating person in the room with you.

“But I like unexpected things to happen. And I also like simplicity. So I have those two things that interest me. And I like linear, clean stories as well.”

As a producer, what did it feel like being the man who had to look after the purse strings this time?

“Oh, I wouldn’t put it like that. I feel the same way about all my movies. Coming in on budget is critical. And being professional and honouring the people whose money we’re using, and making sure they get their money back and more is a sense of pride, almost irrational in me. It’s really important to me that I’m professional in that matter. Maybe it’s an immigrant thing!”

Finally, here’s your chance to really sell Devil to our readers. Why should we go to see it?

“I have a love of scary movies, where it’s grounded in a reality and the scares kind of stick to you. And I believe the Dowdles have achieved that with this movie. They have made one of those movies that is viscerally, intellectually and emotionally scary. Your heart is just pounding the whole time. You should definitely take a date because she’ll definitely grab you.”

Dave Golder
Freelance Writer

Dave is a TV and film journalist who specializes in the science fiction and fantasy genres. He's written books about film posters and post-apocalypses, alongside writing for SFX Magazine for many years.