Shya­malan Sixth Sense

And his the di­rec­tor of su­per­nat­u­ral hits — and misses — hopes to draw au­di­ences to the edge of their seats with his new psy­cho­log­i­cal thriller Split I’m more anx­ious now than ever. I want to risk a lot more to find unique things to say and new ways to sa

WKND - - Hollywood - By nancy mills

Night Shya­malan has never had a per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence with the su­per­nat­u­ral, but he is wary of base­ments. “I’m very su­per­sti­tious,” the film­maker said, speak­ing on tele­phone from Manhattan. “I don’t feel any weird mojo about the base­ment in my house, but there are plenty of peo­ple’s houses I don’t like go­ing in.” “When I was a kid, one of my best friends lived in a very old house that they claimed Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton had stayed in,” he con­tin­ued. “I got the hee­bie-jee­bies there. I never slept over, and I never liked to be by my­self there. If my friend went down­stairs, I went with him. Once I was left alone, and I still re­mem­ber that feel­ing of ‘I’ve got to get the hell out of here.’”

Shya­malan makes am­ple use of that lin­ger­ing fear in Split, which is sched­uled to open in the US to­day (Jan 20). The hor­ror thriller spends much of its time in a base­ment. James Mcavoy plays a man suf­fer­ing from dis­so­cia­tive-iden­tity dis­or­der, which, in this case, means that he has 24 dis­tinct per­son­al­i­ties. Betty Buck­ley plays his ther­a­pist, and Anya Tay­lor-joy, Ha­ley Lu Richard­son and Jes­sica Sula are the teenage girls he kid­naps in the film.

The 46-year-old Shya­malan, who is the fa­ther of three teenage daugh­ters, ad­mit­ted that he’s ba­si­cally work­ing through his cur­rent wor­ries. “When my (daugh­ters) were younger, I made more chil­dren’s movies,” he said. “Now that they’re teenagers, I feel com­fort­able go­ing back to dark thrillers. I worry about the ur­ban night­mare play­ing out in my do­mes­tic life — home in­va­sions and ab­duc­tions. I am al­ways think­ing about dark things and work­ing them out in my head.”

As he sees it, Shya­malan’s films ad­dress a con­tin­u­ing theme. “They are tied to the phi­los­o­phy of see­ing some­thing ex­tra­or­di­nary in the or­di­nary,” he said. “I talk about ex­pe­ri­ences that hap­pen to us that make us dif­fer­ent. Does be­ing dif­fer­ent make you less?

“I am very in­ter­ested in what the mind can do and how much our minds and bod­ies are con­nected,” he con­tin­ued. “With Split, I won­dered if I could make a movie where you are watch­ing one genre, and then at the end, you re­alise you are watch­ing an­other genre.” If that sounds mys­te­ri­ous, Shya­malan would be pleased. Since com­ing to in­ter­na­tional at­ten­tion with The Sixth Sense (1999), which grossed more than $670 mil­lion world­wide, he has made a real ef­fort to mis­lead au­di­ences. Some­times these at­tempts have worked, some­times not, but he’s never matched that early suc­cess. Un­break­able (2000) grossed $248 mil­lion world­wide, Signs (2002) took in $408 mil­lion, The Vil­lage (2004) $256 mil­lion and The Hap­pen­ing (2008) $173 mil­lion. The Last Air­ben­der (2010) and After Earth (2013) were duds do­mes­ti­cally, but at the global box of­fice, raked in $320 mil­lion and $244 mil­lion re­spec­tively. On the other hand, Lady in the Wa­ter (2006) grossed only $73 mil­lion world­wide, and The Visit (2015) only $98 mil­lion. After deal­ing with stu­dio bud­gets for 20 years, Shya­malan re­turned to his low-bud­get roots with Split, which he self-fi­nanced for “below $10 mil­lion”. “I like lis­ten­ing to my own in­stincts and tak­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity for them. If the movie works, it works, and, if it doesn’t, the de­ci­sions are all mine. I am a dif­fer­ent ver­sion of my­self when the process is this way,” Shya­malan con­tin­ued. “If some­thing both­ers me, I will reshoot — it’s my money. Or I will cut some­thing out. I am tak­ing de­ci­sions out of lay­ers and just go­ing one-on-one with them. I need time to get the right ver­sion of the movie and time to try dif­fer­ent things, make mis­takes and then fix them.” “It’s ter­ri­fy­ing, of course,” he ad­mit­ted. “That’s why it’s great. You are all in. You’re putting all of your­self into your movies. There’s no other way.” Univer­sal Stu­dios, which is dis­tribut­ing Split, jumped on board early. “Be­cause we did The Visit to­gether, they read the 24 SHADES OF TER­ROR: In three women are kid­napped by Kevin (Mcavoy) who suf­fers from dis­so­cia­tive-iden­tity dis­or­der; (inset) Shya­malan with Mcavoy

su­per­nat­u­ral Deal­ings: 1 Joaquin phoenix in The Vil­lage 2 a still from shya­malan's break­through film The Sixth Sense script,” Shya­malan said. “They were in and wanted to buy it. But un­til they saw it, they prob­a­bly could have said no.”

Serendip­ity led him to Mcavoy to play the lead. “I find it so amaz­ing that James walked in front of me at a Comic­con event (in 2015) right after I wrote the script,” he said. “His hair was shaved the ex­act right length, and I said, ‘That’s how we’re do­ing the movie.’”

“Only James could have done the part,” Shya­malan con­tin­ued. “He had just won the Best Ac­tor award in Eng­land (for his work in the 2015 stage re­vival of The Rul­ing Class). When I met him, I saw the base­line en­ergy he gives off. He’s a highly skilled, theatre-trained ac­tor and is super-coura­geous. He brings hu­man­ity to the char­ac­ters.”

He does mean “char­ac­ters”. Be­sides Kevin, the main iden­tity, he is imag­i­na­tive fash­ion de­signer Barry, or­gan­ised Pa­tri­cia, con­trol­ling Den­nis and in­quis­i­tive nine-year-old Hed­wig. In a Septem­ber re­view in The Guardian, fol­low­ing a screen­ing at Fan­tas­tic Fest in Austin, Texas, a film critic com­pared Split to Al­fred Hitch­cock’s Psy­cho (1960), call­ing the film “a mas­ter­ful blend of Hitch­cock and hor­ror” — and not only be­cause, like Shya­malan, Hitch­cock was fa­mous for mak­ing cameo ap­pear­ances in his own movies. That com­par­i­son was thrilling to Shya­malan, for whom Hitch­cock is an idol. “My house is filled with vintage Hitch­cock posters,” he said. “He’s the king, the teacher for all of us. His use of lenses and his move­ment of the cam­era cre­ate ten­sion.”

Talk­ing about his other film in­flu­ences, Shya­malan harked back to his pre-teen years. “When I was a kid, I was very much drawn to genre movies,” he re­called. “My cousins and I would go to the video store and ba­si­cally clean out the genre sec­tions. I wasn’t al­lowed to see movies with nu­dity in them.”

“My par­ents are In­dian im­mi­grants,” he con­tin­ued. “They wanted me to have a le­git­i­mate job. I was very lucky to be born when Mr Spiel­berg and Mr Lu­cas were mak­ing their movies. I was see­ing the best cin­ema for my age group. As I got older, I dis­cov­ered Akira Kuro­sawa, Satya­jit Ray, Stan­ley Kubrick and all the mas­ters. I be­came ob­sessed.”

When he was eight, Shya­malan re­ceived a Super-8 cam­era as a gift and be­gan mak­ing his own movies. By the time he ap­plied to study at New York Univer­sity’s Tisch School of the Arts, he had made more than 45.

All of these were made in his na­tive Philadel­phia, as have been most of his sub­se­quent movies, in­clud­ing Split. Has he ever con­sid­ered re­lo­cat­ing to Hol­ly­wood?

“Nah,” Shya­malan said. “I’m a Philly boy. As an au­thor, you want to write some­thing dis­tinct. That is eas­ier when your ex­pe­ri­ences are dif­fer­ent. Not a lot of film­mak­ers live in Philly.” He’s turned down more movies than he’s made, with the list re­port­edly in­clud­ing three Harry Pot­ter films and a few su­per­hero flicks. Any re­grets?

“No, no, no,” Shya­malan in­sisted. “They were won­der­fully made. I’m the luck­i­est guy ever to be able to tell sto­ries for this long. I’m writ­ing a new movie right now, and I’m work­ing on a few TV shows.”

The small screen is clearly an in­ter­est for him: Shya­malan re­cently ex­ec­u­tive-pro­duced two sea­sons of Way­ward Pines (2015-2016), and also di­rected the show’s first episode, and he’s work­ing on a re­boot of Tales from the Crypt (1989-1996). “I’m ex­cited about the op­por­tu­ni­ties in TV,” he said.

Since The Sixth Sense came out 18 years ago, Shya­malan said, the movie-go­ing ex­pe­ri­ence has al­tered. “Tones have changed and movies have got­ten darker,” he said. “Orig­i­nal movies are rare. How peo­ple make their movie-go­ing de­ci­sions is dif­fer­ent. The In­ter­net wasn’t such a big force in 1999.”

Shya­malan him­self has changed. “I’m prob­a­bly more anx­ious than I used to be. I want to risk a lot more in or­der to find unique things to say and new ways to say it.”

Although his movies deal with scary, of­ten hor­rific sub­jects, Shya­malan in­sisted that he is still the good lit­tle boy that he was grow­ing up. “I was def­i­nitely the child that did ev­ery­thing right. I never broke the rules, be­cause I was scared. I was just very quiet and did what my teach­ers and par­ents said. The way I write is dif­fer­ent from the way I am,” Shya­malan said. “If we hung out, you would think I was bor­ing. But when I write, I can be more in­ter­est­ing than I ever re­alised. I’m okay be­ing dif­fer­ent now, which is a nice feel­ing.”

— The New York Times Syn­di­cate

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