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A still from the teaser for M. Night Shyamalan's 'Servant'

31 Days of Halloween

‘Servant’ season 1 review: Beautiful twisting psychological horror

The creepiest show on Apple.

Welcome to another installment of 31 Days of Halloween! This is our chance to set the mood for the spookiest and scariest month of the year as we focus our attention on horror and Halloween fun. For the month of October we’ll be sharing various pieces of underappreciated scary books, comics, movies, and television to help keep you terrified and entertained all the way up to Halloween.

M. Night Shyamalan is one of the most maligned directors today. After a great start with The Sixth Sense, his subsequent movies have been met with less enthusiasm. In between accusations of plagiarism and his overreliance on twists, Shyamalan has become a meme. Not the fate many would have predicted for the director who made four words a cultural phenomenon.

Despite all the bad press, Shyamalan remains a powerful name in Hollywood. When Apple announced the filmmaker would be working on their new streaming network, it was seen as a coup. When the premise of the show was announced, people became even more excited. Called Servant, the show would be a psychological horror about a couple named Dorothy (Lauren Ambrose)  and Sean (Toby Kebbell) dealing with the loss of their infant son.

(Tried and true M. Night haters need to be aware of one thing before watching the show. Though he directed two episodes and is an executive producer, he did not write Servant. The show was created and written by Tony Basgallop.)

Servant is easily the creepiest show on Apple TV+. While this may not be saying much, that should not take away from the atmosphere the show creates. In order to cope with the death of her son Jericho, Dorothy has become attached to a reborn doll. She believes this animatronic device is actually her lost son. So much so that she returns to her job as a local television newscaster and hires a babysitter.

If that is not weird enough, Leanne (Nell Tiger Free) also acts as if the doll is a real baby. The babysitter is also devoutly religious. Before long, secrets are revealed and strange happenings take over the lives of all three. Unsurprisingly, Servant is twist heavy. The first episode alone will have audiences constantly wondering what is really going on. The events of that episode also dictate what happens the rest of the show. It is an ending that is not entirely unsurprising, but still packs a strong emotional gut punch.

The rest of the series does not quite live up to the initial promise. There are more twists to be had – many of which are well done. But they always come with the feeling that Servant is just stringing the audience along. This mixed in with a methodical pace can be a turn off for some. Sometimes, it feels like there is not enough content for ten episodes.

Those who do stay on will be rewarded with a very fun show. The constant teases may wear thin, but the mystery is very engrossing. The short episodes (they are only thirty minutes apiece) make things much more palatable. Even with the slow pace, Servant never seems tedious. There are a lot of moving pieces to keep viewers engaged.

'Servant' season 1 review: Beautiful twisting psychological horror

The show looks beautiful. Bordering on gothic, the home where most of the action takes place adds to the atmosphere. There is an ominous look to Servant that plays into the greater story. Since much of the show takes place at the house, there is also a claustrophobic feeling to everything. With each shot, the show seems to use the things that scare people the most.

The true standout of Servant are the outstanding performances. Ambrose, in particular, does a great job of demonstrating how some people handle grief. Dorothy seems to use her bubbly television personality as a shield. It is surprising she is not in a more prominent role despite motherhood being a central theme of the show.

'Servant' season 1 review: Beautiful twisting psychological horror

Rupert Grint of Harry Potter fame is fantastic as Dorothy’s obnoxious brother Julian. Dorothy comes from money and Julian lives the life to the hilt. His role as the caring brother who also seems to be enjoying the odd situation is enough to keep audiences watching. He is in some of the funniest moments of the season.

Servant has its issues, but it provides something that even long running shows do not have. A reason aside from habit to keep watching. The setting is stunning and the premise itself is very interesting. Things slow down towards the end of the season forcing the show to rely on bait and switch writing, but the show does more than enough to warrant interest in the upcoming second season.

Season 2 premieres on Apple TV+ on January 15.

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