How Servant is influencing M. Night Shyamalan's new movies like Knock at the Cabin

·4 min read
How Servant is influencing M. Night Shyamalan's new movies like Knock at the Cabin

For the past several years, M. Night Shyamalan has been hard at work making Apple TV+'s Servant, a psychological-supernatural thriller about a grieving family who take in a mysterious runaway from a strange cult. But that's not all the prolific filmmaker has been up to. At the same time that Servant has been airing, Shyamalan has directed two movies (2021's Old and this year's Knock at the Cabin) and signed a first-look deal with Warner Bros. to make even more — including the upcoming Trap. Plus, he'll be working on his daughter Ishana Night Shyamalan's directorial debut after she helmed several standout Servant episodes.

You don't have to look too closely to see the impact Servant has already had on Shyamalan's film work. Knock at the Cabin, for instance, spends most of its runtime posing the same kind of questions ("are there really supernatural forces at work here, or is someone just messing with us?") that Servant drew out over its four seasons. Both stories also ultimately present a Christ dilemma, in which characters are forced to make painful, personal sacrifices in service of the greater good. Last but not least, Rupert Grint stars in both Servant (as recovering addict Julian Pearce) and Knock at the Cabin (as ex-convict-turned-true-believer Redmond).

"I think it'll always affect me," Shyamalan tells EW of Servant. "I worked with a lot of artists, a lot of writers, a lot of directors. That's just different from what I've spent my life doing, and it's been wonderful. These filmmakers who have come in have each taught me a new muscle. They each have their own strengths and weaknesses, and I can learn new muscles from watching them. The things that I'm good at, they may not be good at, and things they're good at might be my weak spots."

Rupert Grint and Toby Kebbell in "Servant," now streaming on Apple TV+.; Leonard (Dave Bautista) and Redmond (Rupert Grint) in Knock at the Cabin
Rupert Grint and Toby Kebbell in "Servant," now streaming on Apple TV+.; Leonard (Dave Bautista) and Redmond (Rupert Grint) in Knock at the Cabin

Apple TV +; Universal Pictures Toby Kebbell and Rupert Grint in 'Servant' vs. Dave Bautista and Rupert Grint in 'Knock at the Cabin.'

The talented group of Servant episode directors includes Julia Ducornau (who helmed the first two episodes of season 2 before going on to win the Palme d'Or at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival for her film Titane) as well as newer artists like Ishana and Dylan Holmes Williams (who depicted season 3's gruesome kitchen accident as well as the season 4 premiere's homage to Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds).

On top of the collaboration with other filmmakers, Shyamalan says Servant's biggest impact on his work has been the new ways it's gotten him to think about structure and pacing. Unlike most drama shows, each episode of Servant is a half hour long, which inspired creative thinking about how to build tension and when to deploy a plot twist for maximum effectiveness.

"I've learned a lot about structure and movement," Shyamalan says. "The new movie I'm writing feels very, very tight and sharp. I think I'm still in this mode of drilling things down into 30 minutes like 'go, go, go!' I think you can see that these last couple movies do have that kind of momentum behind them. Can I do a 90-minute version of a 30-minute sequence?"

Then there's the importance of setting. For most of its four seasons, Servant hardly left the apartment owned by Sean (Toby Kebbell) and Dorothy Turner (Lauren Ambrose). Knock at the Cabin, too, contains most of its action within the titular cabin in the woods. The Servant apartment is gone now that production has wrapped, but it will live on in Shyamalan's life in other ways.

"The building doesn't exist anymore. It's just an empty warehouse now," Shyamalan says. "The last time I was standing there, I just couldn't believe it. It was like leaving your own home after five years. So it was sad, but now my girls have some of the furniture in their apartments, so it will live on in our homes."

All four seasons of Servant are streaming now on Apple TV+.

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