M. Night Shyamalan Wants ‘Happening’ Audience To Be Entertained … And Then Traumatized

Director talks about filming his first R-rated movie, making a sequel to a box-office disappointment.

He may be the modern master of suspense, but M. Night Shyamalan is about to take it to another level with his latest film, set for release Friday (a marketer’s dream on Friday the 13th). Yes, “The Happening” is Shyamalan’s first R-rated film. Nearly as surprising as his famed twist endings, right? Don’t go into “The Happening” expecting one of those either. Instead, Shyamalan delivers a scarily plausible doomsday thrill ride starring Mark Wahlberg and Zooey Deschanel.

It’s been a sometimes-bumpy trip for the director since he broke through in a big way with “The Sixth Sense” (“Lady in the Water,” anyone?). He spoke with MTV News about his disturbing new flick, the Shyamalan backlash, and what film of his just might be getting a sequel.

MTV: You’ve gone from arguably your most family-friendly film, “Lady in the Water,” to your darkest. Should we be worried about you? Is everything OK?

M. Night Shyamalan: [Laughs.] It’s always a balance. I wrote “Stuart Little” and “The Sixth Sense” the same year. Those are the two sides of me. I have the “I like to mess with you” side and the “Aw, look at that baby. How cute!” side.

MTV: This one definitely favors the darker side.

Shyamalan: The canvas is pretty shocking and dark, definitely.

MTV: But it wasn’t your idea to go R with this one. Was it the studio’s?

Shyamalan: It really was the screenplay’s idea. The screenplay I wrote was impossible to do PG-13, but I hadn’t come to terms with that. The studio said, “We love it. Go make it as an R.”

MTV: Were you comfortable going as far as you did with the rating?

Shyamalan: When I first shot it, I put everything in. It was off the charts. There would be a group of people that would have gone, “That’s fantastic!” But it would have been a fringe group, a bloodthirsty group. There were three places I trimmed [to get the R].

MTV: So will there be a bloodthirsty DVD cut?

Shyamalan: No. They asked me to, but I’ll put the other stuff in the extras so you’ll see where it went over the line for me.

MTV: The working title of the film was “The Green Effect,” and clearly there are some timely issues you’re weighing in on here. Is there a clear message you’re hoping an audience gets?

Shyamalan: It’s a B-movie. It’s the best B-movie you’ll see. It should be the scariest movie of the year. It’s meant to be entertainment. Now, once that’s all said and done and you’ve been entertained thoroughly, you’re traumatized. That’s all happened, and then as you’re walking out and somebody says, “That can’t happen, right?” — if that’s the reaction, we’re golden.

MTV: You’ve gotten more than your share of backlash over the past few years. Who deserves the blame?

Shyamalan: I think it’s just time. If I had a dollar for everybody that said I sucked and I took away a dollar for everyone who said I was a genius, I’d have no movie. Everything would be even. I’ll just go make my movies, and hopefully over time, it’ll all settle itself.

MTV: I’m one of those unabashed “Unbreakable” fans. Is it true you had always envisioned it as a trilogy?

Shyamalan: Yeah.

MTV: Do you regret not jumping right into a sequel after it came out?

Shyamalan: Yeah, because I believed the thing that the group was saying: that the movie wasn’t good. There weren’t a lot of you jumping up on opening day. [Laughs.] That wasn’t the predominant feeling, and now it is about that movie. I made a mistake getting caught up in the hype of the immediate reaction to the movie. If I had been more confident and said, “I believe in that movie,” that probably would have been the right move [to make a sequel]. I’ve still been thinking about it a lot. I wonder if it’s too late. I genuinely ask the question all the time: “Should I make ‘Unbreakable 2′?”

MTV: Did you ever come up with a title for it?

Shyamalan: I did have a title. [Laughs.]

MTV: Tell me about your next one, “The Last Airbender.” It sounds much more effects-driven than anything you’ve done before.

Shyamalan: This one is totally different, totally big. Yes, there are tons of special effects in it, but it should be in service of the characters. That’s what I loved about this piece, that I found a mythology where the CGI could be in service to the characters. It’s an extension of them, of what they’re feeling.

MTV: Does it need stars?

Shyamalan: I don’t know. We’ll have to see. We’re just talking about it. It’s an exciting conversation. My first movie that I flipped out over was “Star Wars.” The guys who wrote this series were definitely inspired by “Star Wars.”

MTV: Will it be shot on location or on soundstages?

Shyamalan: Both. We’re going to shoot in Greenland and somewhere in Asia, maybe Vietnam.

Check out everything we’ve got on “The Happening.”

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