Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

How M. Night Shymalan's Movies Reveal What Scares Him The Most

There are few creative minds who have had the cultural impact of M. Night Shyamalan. When it comes to The Sixth Sense, which is arguably the feature he'll always be remembered for, he not only cemented the popularity of twist endings in cinema, but also paved the way for the "spoiler culture" of today, mostly because of just how good that twist ending was. Combined with the moody, distinct atmospheres seen throughout much of Shyamalan's work, from the superhero-influenced Unbreakable to the alien invasion flick Signs, he remains easily one of the most recognizable directors in Hollywood today.

Not every Shyamalan film, admittedly, has been a rousing success. However, he certainly can't be faulted for a lack of ambition: his filmography stretches across numerous genres and styles, with the one grounding principle being his commitment to getting into the heads of his audiences, unnerving them, and making them take a closer look at their fears.

Like most great horror writers and directors, Shyamalan taps into widespread cultural phobias by looking inward, and examining what scares himself. In a recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter, the director pinpointed how the unifying theme throughout most of his work has been isolation: his protagonists, from Unbreakable's David Dunn to the community depicted in The Village, face terrifying circumstances largely created by their disconnect with most of the world. 

And while loneliness and isolation are always scary to think about, there has perhaps never been a time when his work is more relevant than today, in the age of COVID-19.

Shyamalan says isolation is "the thing that scares me the most, and here we are"

The aforementioned Hollywood Reporter interview was promoting Shyamalan's second season of Servant, set to premiere January 15. Because the season was filmed during the height of the pandemic, a large chunk of the conversation included discussion of COVID-19, particularly since the series, with its small setting and cast, had an easier time continuing production — while following necessary safety protocols — than so many other TV shows and movies. "We had a Covid-free production, completely," Shyamalan said, "and everyone was super grateful and happy, while cherishing the opportunity to continue to work."

The COVID-19 pandemic, in many ways, feels much like something that could happen in one of Shyamalan's films. So it's no surprise that Shyamalan admitted that, over the course of 2020, he had received many inquiries regarding when he would tackle that very topic. 

"A lot of people have been asking, 'Hey, are you going to write something about Covid? It's so in your wheelhouse,'" the director revealed. "'And I'm like, 'I've been writing these stories of families that get isolated, forever!' Everyone getting isolated from each other is the thing that scares me the most, and here we are, having just spent the year doing it."

Indeed, it's very easy to not only see the parallels between the strange, socially isolated nightmare that has become everyday life during a pandemic, and the stories that Shyamalan has put onscreen for years. While he almost certainly won't ever do a movie that's only about COVID-19 — presumably, there'll be some demons, ghosts, or monsters in there, somewhere — it does seem like creative ideas are already swirling around in his head. And the isolation that the pandemic has brought to so many, including Shyamalan himself, will likely serve as great fodder for a future film or TV production.