‘The Watchers’: Dakota Fanning, Ishana Shyamalan and Georgina Campbell Reveal How ‘Love Island’ Helped Shape the Horror Film

“Try not to die!”

When Dakota Fanning’s Mina prepares for a night out with a bird on loan from the pet shop, she gives him that warning in jest before bolting out the door. Little does she know, the sunny yellow bird will soon parrot that phrase back to her as she faces unimaginable horrors deep in the woods of Ireland.

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Thankfully, the real bird had a more calming presence on set. “Her real name was Sunshine. She was great! Easygoing. No problems. Got a lot of attention. Everyone really loved her and took really good care of her. She was munching on blueberries most of the time in her little cage,” Fanning says of her feathered co-star.

“The Watchers,” in theaters Friday from Warner Bros., follows Mina as she finds herself trapped in the forest with three strangers (Georgina Campbell, Oliver Finnegan and Olwen Fouéré), forced to abide by the rules of mysterious malevolent creatures each night.

The quartet must sequester themselves each night in “the coop,” a bunker-like structure featuring a giant two-way mirror. There’s not much there in the way of entertainment – except for the old TV, that is. It’s equipped with a single DVD with a season of “Lair of Love,” a “Love Island”-esque dating series.

“I was watching ‘Love Island’ as I was writing the script,” director and writer Ishana Shyamalan tells Variety with a laugh, adding that she found a curious parallel between the film’s protagonists and reality contestants.

THE WATCHERS, from left: Olwen Fouere, director Ishana Shyamalan, Oliver Finnegan, Georgina Campbell, on set, 2024. ph: Jonathan Hession /© Warner Bros. /Courtesy Everett Collection
Olwen Fouere, director Ishana Shyamalan, Oliver Finnegan and Georgina Campbell on ‘The Watchers’ set

“I am just so enjoying these people flirting with each other and getting emotional, and just obsessively watching these characters and connecting to them. And it felt very much like the experience of what was happening in the coop: they’re sort of being observed in their humanity. It felt like a really wonderful kind of thing to juxtapose this world.”

Georgina Campbell says she and Shyamalan had daily dish sessions on new episodes during filming. “We would be coming to work being like, ‘Oh my god, did you see what happened last night? Oh my God, I can’t believe that. He’s going out with her now!”

“I 100% watch shows like that,” Fanning adds. “I haven’t totally gone full ‘Love Island.’ My mom and my sister are obsessed and are always trying to get me to watch it. I feel like it’s too much at this point, you know?”

Of course, there’s more to the horror thriller than reality TV. Fanning says she was drawn to the role of Mina because of her relatable story as a woman in her early 20s who still doesn’t have things quite figured out.

“I felt like Mina was a searcher. She obviously had some things buried from her past and was still trying to find herself,” she says. “I was in my late 20s reading the script and making the movie, and I kind of felt like that: you’re not young and you’re not old. You’re somewhere in between, and you’re supposed to have it all together.”

THE WATCHERS, from left: Georgina Campbell, Dakota Fanning, Oliver Finnegan, Olwen Fouere, 2024.  © Warner Bros. /Courtesy Everett Collection
Georgina Campbell, Dakota Fanning, Oliver Finnegan and Olwen Fouere in ‘The Watchers’

Mina, often frantic and desperate to escape, contrasts with Campbell’s Ciara, who brings a remarkable sense of calm to the high-stress atmosphere of the coop.

“She’s so feminine and soft and sweet. I don’t think I’m really like that,” Campbell says. “There was just a softness to her and a fragility. She’s really lost in this world and doesn’t quite know how to get through it. I was very excited to play that because I feel like I played a lot of characters that are quite resourceful. It was fun to play someone that’s a little bit more vulnerable.”

Campbell has become a bit of a scream queen in recent years, starring in “Barbarian” and “Bird Box Barcelona.” “I love watching horror films. I absolutely love them. And I’ve just been lucky enough to be sent scripts that are in the genre world that I’ve really enjoyed and liked and wanted to do. So yeah, I’m a horror girl!”

THE WATCHERS, from left: Georgina Campbell, Dakota Fanning, 2024.  © Warner Bros. /Courtesy Everett Collection
Georgina Campbell and Dakota Fanning in ‘The Watchers’

While Shyamalan makes her feature directorial debut with “The Watchers,” she’s not new to the thriller genre. She’s collaborated with her father M. Night Shyamalan several times, writing and directing episodes of “Servant” and directing second unit on his films “Old” and “Knock at the Cabin.”

While her father serves as a producer on “The Watchers,” Ishana says she was ready for the prospect of helming a project entirely on her own: “I was really excited about that challenge, I think of not having a style to match and just being able to lean into what I found interesting. It was very, very difficult. The stakes feel so high, I think in this particular art form. And it’s very scary thing to do. There’s a lot of elements and it really pushed me to the brink of my abilities in a wonderful way.”

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