NEW YORK (Reuters) - Director M. Night Shyamalan is best known for the Oscar-nominated global hit "The Sixth Sense," but fans should be under no illusions about his latest thriller, "The Happening."
"I wanted it to be a fantastic, fun B-movie," Shyamalan told Reuters in a recent interview about the eighth film he has written and directed. "The No. 1 thing is I want people to say: 'That was a really fun B-movie."'
After his 2006 flop "Lady In the Water," which was slammed by critics and grossed just $73 million at the box office worldwide, some critics say the pressure is on the 37-year-old Indian-born American, so he has returned to what he does best -- scaring people.
His two previous "scary" movies, 1999's "The Sixth Sense" starring Bruce Willis and 2002's "Signs" starring Mel Gibson, made more than $1.7 billion globally between them. But analysts are puzzled as to how "The Happening" will do when it opens around the world this week.
"His box office record has been all over the map, but he's held to such a high standard because of how well 'The Sixth Sense' did," said Paul Dergarabedian, box office analyst for Media By Numbers.
"I don't think this is going to be 'Lady in the Water,"' he said. "This is definitely going to be a stronger opening then that. The marketing has been pretty strong, and audiences are always intrigued by M. Night Shyamalan."
Brandon Gray, president of movie Web site Box Office Mojo, agreed. But he added that because Shyamalan is promoted as a key selling point -- his name appears above the title on movie posters -- a box office failure is more harmful to him.
"Even though 'Lady in the Water' is by no means the greatest flop ever and 'The Village' did a lot of business, it just disappointed a lot of people," Gray said.
"The Happening," starring Mark Wahlberg and Zooey Deschanel, sees an invisible killer spread throughout the U.S. Northeast, leaving people asking if it is a terrorist attack, a government conspiracy or an unexplainable act of nature.
"There's so many things to be paranoid about right now," said Shyamalan, adding he wanted to play on people's fears for the future about such things as terrorism and climate change. "I was so clear about what kind of movie I was making."
After seeing the movie, Shyamalan hopes audiences will nervously wonder if "that could really happen" and maybe even feel guilty about how they might be harming the planet.
But early reviews have panned the 20th Century Fox film.
"The movie seems more like a '50s science-fiction film of extreme paranoia or an episode of 'The Twilight Zone' that even at a swiftly paced 90 minutes feels padded," The Hollywood Reporter's Kirk Honeycutt wrote.
Variety's Justin Chang wrote: "After an initial bloom of interest, the Fox release will likely wilt quickly."