Fright Night; INTERVIEW the Sixth Sense Made M. Night Shyamalan a Master of the Frightening Thriller, but His Reputation's Been Somewhat Shaky since. Could Helming Action Sci-Fi Blockbuster after Earth, a Guaranteed Hit Starring Father and Son Will and Jaden Smith, Turn Things around for the Director? Sophie Herdman Has a Sense It Might. BIG SCREEN

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PICTURE this - a man is sitting at home alone when he notices a photograph of his wife is faced down. 'That's weird,' he thinks, before returning it to its upright position and leaving the room to make a cup of coffee. When he walks back into the room, he looks over at the photograph - it's faced down again.

Pretty scary, right? But while I'd love to take credit for this spooky tale, it is, in fact, M. Night Shyamalan's creation.

The director of The Sixth Sense has just conjured up this story on the spot, as we talk, to illustrate what he thinks makes a good thriller.

The unknown is what Before 1999's The Sixth Sense, starring Bruce Willis and a school-age Haley Joel Osment as the little boy who can "see dead people", Shyamalan had a few completed projects under his belt but was little-known.

makes things scary A huge box office success, later earning six Oscar nominations, the movie propelled him into the big leagues, cementing Shyamalan's reputation as a director with a gift for creating the fear factor.

"The unknown is what makes things scary," the 42-year-old says. "The why, how, what... That story is more frightening than 'blood dripping down the wall' horror. Plus, it's much cheaper to film," he jokes.

The Indian-American director is looking dapper in a dark suit and electric blue tie. He's quite small, with a curly mop of hair and such kind eyes that he doesn't look like a man who has found fame scaring the living daylights out of people.

Shyamalan is in the UK to talk about his new film, After Earth, which sees Will Smith and his son Jaden starring opposite each other as father and son for the first time since The Pursuit Of Happyness in 2007.

It's hailed as one of this summer's sure fire hits - thanks to the Smith duo playing leads - and a plot that ticks all the right sci-fi action boxes.

Set in the future (1,000 years after Earth became uninhabitable, to be precise), humans have been forced to move to another planet.

Cypher (Will Smith), a legendary general in the United Ranger Corps, an army of sorts, takes his son Kitai (Jaden Smith) on a bonding trip. Unfortunately, it all goes very wrong and they end up crash-landing their aircraft on Earth - now a danger zone. With Cypher wounded, Kitai has to go on a perilous journey to find help.

Unlike many of Shyamalan's films, including The Village and Unbreakable, After Earth isn't necessarily a thriller, but fear is still a key part of the movie.

"Cypher teaches Kitai that when you get scared, you close your senses off," the director says.

"It's a very Zen thing - be present, stop anticipating what's going to happen in the next moment. It's also very much about mindfulness."

While researching fear for the film, Shyamalan stumbled upon the tale of a bank robbery that he's keen to talk about.

"There was a police officer yelling at a woman who was in the bank to 'get out', but she couldn't hear him because she was totally focused on the man with the gun," he tells me, wide-eyed.

"She was so scared, her senses had become completely tunnelled."

While clearly passionate about his work, Shyamalan's films have drawn some mixed reviews of late. …