|M. NIGHT SHYAMALANSHYAMALANSERVANT|
One of the most high-profile filmmakers associated with the streaming service Apple TV+ since its launch last November has been M. Night Shyamalan. Promotional images for Servant, which released its tense season finale on Friday, prominently featured the words, “From M. Night Shyamalan” over the title. Shyamalan directed the show’s pilot and serves as one of its executive producers, much like he did with Fox’s Wayward Pines.
The plot of Servant revolves around a suspicious nanny who enters the life of a Philadelphia couple. Here, as with Wayward Pines, Shyamalan has taken a step back from writing duties. Showrunner Tony Basgallop wrote all ten episodes of Servant’s first season. Yet there are aspects of the show that feel very much of a piece with Shyamalan’s overall body of work as a writer-director. It’s another atmospheric dip into psychological horror where the choice of setting, the familiar preoccupation with belief and delusion, a newer tendency toward exploitation tactics, and less salubrious aspects like accusations of plagiarism Servant is now the subject of a lawsuit all draw a line to previous moments in his career.
Spoilers for Servant follow.
In its first season, Servant also employed other filmmakers turned TV directors like Nimrod Antal Vacancy, Predators and John Dahl Rounders, Joy Ride. So it’s not as though Shyamalan is the only director responsible for bringing this show to life. However, Servant does feel like an appropriate offshoot of the Shyamalan brand. It’s a twisty thriller and the setting is Pennsylvania, where he grew up and where he has shot and set most of his films. Moreover, that Pennsylvania setting is extremely contained. The show rarely ventures outside a single townhouse, and even when it does, it’s usually just a short trip to the street outside where cars sit parallel-parked.
This is in line with the isolated farms, villages, apartment complexes, elevators, small towns, basements, and mental institutes that have served as the primary location in other Shyamalan projects. See: Signs, The Village, Lady in the Water, Devil, Wayward Pines, The Visit, Split, and Glass. Basically, Shyamalan never met a contained setting he didn’t like. This is something I wrote about last year when I delved into the twists, the triumphs, and the turkeys of his career.
Even After Earth, a movie set on a planet devoid of human life, could be considered a mass-scale rendering of a contained setting. It’s a place where the real world doesn’t intrude on Shyamalogic. As a storyteller, Shyamalan does seem to prefer hermetic scenarios where he can exercise the utmost control, using his own loopy logic to create new natural laws where the normal rules of human behavior don’t necessarily apply.
In Servant, this manifests itself in the lack of...