Movies

‘Servant’ review: M. Night Shyamalan’s Apple TV+ psychological drama keeps you guessing

Rupert Grint in M. Night Shyamalan’s ‘Servant’

Rupert Grint in M. Night Shyamalan’s ‘Servant’   | Photo Credit: Apple TV+

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The twists are a mixed bag, but the uniformly fantastic cast make this creepy outing worth sticking with

It has been some time now since the Shyamalaissance got under way. After a series of flops, Split and Glass put the director back, if not on top, then at least in a familiar place. And now comes Servant, a 10-episode psychological horror series created and written by Tony Basgallop for Apple TV+, where M Night Shyamalan shares director and executive producer credit with others.

Apple is clearly confident of having a hit on its hands, announcing a second season even before the first three episodes released.

So, where does Servant stand in his oeuvre? The story begins with the arrival of a taxi (set to the ominous sounds of a violin) in the pouring night rain to the Turner house, bringing with it a demure, young woman, Leanne Grayson (Nell Tiger Free). As it happens, Dorothy Turner (Lauren Ambrose) has hired a nanny to care for her baby Jericho (of course, it is an old-timey name!) and she just wants everything to go well. But clearly things are not okay with the Turners. Dorothy is unnaturally chipper while Sean (Toby Kebbell) is tired and reluctant and likely has a drinking problem. The couple can’t help but snipe at each other. The nanny, on the other hand, is very quiet. Quiet enough for Sean to remark it’s “weird”.

Leanne, though, turns out to be quite good with baby Jericho. But something is definitely off with the baby (it’s given away in the trailer but since Shyamalan is pretty much synonymous with a twist, you know there has to be a lot more in store).

Servant
  • Cast: Lauren Ambrose, Toby Kebbell, Nell Tiger Free, Rupert Grint, Tony Revolori, Phillip James Brannon
  • Directors: M Night Shyamalan, Daniel Sackheim, Lisa Bruhlmann
  • Runtime: The first three episodes are a little over 30 minutes long
  • Storyline: A Philadelphia couple are in mourning after an unspeakable tragedy creates a rift in their marriage and opens the door for a mysterious force to enter their home

But where things start moving is after Sean pricks his finger on a homemade cross made by Leanne and soon after starts discovering splinters in different parts of his body. It would be too much of a spoiler to say what happens next. Suffice to say, that it is serious enough for Sean to call his brother-in-law Julian (Rupert Grint) for help, who then ropes in his PI friend Roscoe.

 

The cast is uniformly good. From Lauren Ambrose as a new mother concerned about her baby and anxious about leaving him for the first time to go back to her job as a news reporter, and Toby Kebbell as a man who has something to hide with the strain showing in his demeanour and his marriage, to Nell Tiger Free as the mysterious nanny and Rupert Grint (a long way away from Hogwarts) as the sharp but can’t-quite-trust-him Julian.

The music, composed by Trevor Gureckis (available on Apple Music), plays a big part in creating an atmosphere of unease, as does the sense of claustrophobia. The camera barely ventures outside the Turner house. Sean, a consulting chef, works from home. We never see Leanne taking Jericho for his outings and when we see Dorothy reporting, it isn’t in sunlight. The only time we get longer shots of the outside world is when Julian and Roscoe get Sean on a video call. In addition, there are several tight close-ups during conversations.

As far as the twists go, it is possible to guess some of them but at the end of the third episode, there are still many unanswered questions. That is reason enough to keep watching Servant.

Stray thoughts

Look out for Shyamalan’s obligatory cameo à la Hitchcock!

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Printable version | Dec 16, 2019 6:12:26 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/servant-review-m-night-shyamalans-apple-tv-psychological-drama-keeps-you-guessing/article30136010.ece

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