M. Night Shyamalan is back with another thriller, only this time it’ll be on Apple TV+ come November 28 instead of in theaters. Made up of 8 half-hour episodes in its first season, and already renewed for a second, Servant tells the story of a grieving couple who welcome a mysterious woman into their homes. Whether she’s a force for good and evil, and exactly what happened to the baby that the couple is grieving are questions left unanswered for several episodes – just as one would expect from the master of suspense.
Shyamalan shed some light on the twists and turns of Servant in an interview with Screen Rant, where he explained how he got involved and how he emphasizes character arcs with his directing.
Congratulations on Servant. I love it so far; I'm almost done.
M. Night Shyamalan: Thank you. Where are you? What episode?
I'm starting episode eight.
M. Night Shyamalan: Oh my god, are you in for it. 8, 9, 10. Man, we should just stop this interview. You need to go.
Let me go back and finish. How did you get involved in this project, and what called to you about it?
M. Night Shyamalan: It kind of evolved. Tony [Basgallop] and Jason [Blumenthal], one of the producers, came to me with the pilot, and I thought the premise was amazing. And then we had lots of conversations about tone; about how to do this where it wasn't fantasy; that it was grounded. It's weird and dark. Let's keep going down this weird direction; make it uncomfortable for people. Are we supposed to laugh? Are we supposed to cry? All of that stuff. When we found it, we just kept working on it and became so fun. It was just a joy to make.
And the format of the half-hour thriller, this kind of new format, I think it's the reason that I could do the show. If it was an hour, I'm not sure. It would be like half a movie, and then we're not in the same kind of freedoms that I feel like we have here. We don't need to vamp at all. We don't need to be all, “Let's keep it going. What else do we say?”
We’re very precise, and the play format allows us to [do it] all in one location. I think the fact that it's 30 minutes and it's all in one location are tied together.
You directed the first episode, and I was really struck by some of the camera angles. It felt like the Turners were welcoming me into this house. What was the intent behind that direct-to-camera POV?
M. Night Shyamalan: Well, I tend to think of two things. One, when I'm thinking about cinema, what is the tone of the overall piece? So, you think about it as an overall piece and what is that vocabulary. Then within that vocabulary, what is your character feeling at that moment? And how can I help you accentuate that you're going to break up with your boyfriend or you think he's going to murder you? How do I accentuate that feeling? I don't know your boyfriend.
My final question is how do you guys balance that hint of thriller with the family tragedy?
M. Night Shyamalan: “Unknown” is what you want to evoke when you're doing suspense. So, what is that noise upstairs? What is she doing up there? Why is she just staring? Is that a real baby? Whose baby is that? Is that doll alive or is it not alive?
Just evoking the unknown is how you make people uncomfortable. And I find, when you're in that mode of nervousness and [discomfort], you're more emotional. I can have those conversations, and you're connecting to the characters more as you're empathizing with them and you want them to be okay.
Servant premieres on Apple TV+ November 28, 2019.