“If the truth doesn’t matter, nothing ever will.” Those are the politically charged words of nine-year-old investigative journalist Hilde Lisko in Apple TV+’s Home After Dark, the latest show from the platform looking to make an impact in a streaming sector currently dominated by Netflix and Disney.
Based on real-life reporter Hilde Lysiak, who gained notoriety after scooping a homicide case in her Pennsylvania hometown, the drama sees the fourth-grader uncover a chilling mystery armed only with her bicycle and a commitment to the truth that belies—or possibly highlights—her youth. “I’m obsessed with this girl,” series co-creator Dara Resnik confesses, “She’s unafraid in a way that we should be telling all little girls to be unafraid.”
Director Jon M. Chu (Crazy Rich Asians) adds in a /Film interview: “[Co-creator Dana Fox] came to me with this, talking about Hilde. I had heard about Hilde, the year before, reading articles about her. You could feel the sense of everything changing around us, with truth and facts and journalism, in general, and we just got into a really interesting conversation about, what is truth? What’s everybody’s capacity for truth? We teach our kids to be truthful, and yet we lie to them, on a constant basis.
“Having a daughter and trying to figure out how I was going to raise her, all of these things felt very relevant to me,” Chu continues. “The show has such a unique tone, that was not gonna be a kids’ show. I’m also obsessed with true crime docs, so we got in a whole thing about that. It just felt like an amazing challenge, to make this world about a young woman that needs to be taken seriously.”
In an interview with RogerEbert.com, Chu describes drawing inspiration from the world of Steven Spielberg: “We grew up on those movies—you usually have an actual monster, an actual shark, have an actual sort of otherworldly thing.
“In our show, we don’t have any of that. It’s human beings. It’s our secrets, it’s our truths and our lies.” To read the full interview, click here.
Chu establishes the visual languages of the show in the first two episodes, showing us the world from Hilde’s point of view. Resnik also credits director of photography Alice Brooks with creating this level of sensitivity. “She knows what it’s supposed to look like,” Resnick tells Collider. “It’s so important in a world that doesn’t have a lot of successful female DPs to be seeing it through the lens of someone who understands what it’s like to be a little girl.”
That the show has such a unique perspective feeds the idea of streaming companies opening the door to voices often neglected from traditional media. Speaking to /Film, Fox notes: “I do credit Apple with being brave enough to say, ‘No, let’s make this premium and adult and sophisticated, and let’s not dumb it down, let’s not make it kiddie.’ The fact that they let us do that was pretty extraordinary.
“It’s literally for everybody, Fox continues. “And it’s for everyone, all over the world. It’s for anybody who’s ever been a kid. It’s for kids. It’s for parents. It’s for adults. It’s for people without children. Our experience is that everybody feels like Hilde is their access character, and because we treat her so seriously, the audience does, too. I’m not gonna lie to you and say it was easy to figure out how to nourish that tone into existence because I’d never seen it before.”
“It was something that I knew I wanted to feel episodic. A big draw to doing this was that I wanted to make it feel really elastic,” explains Fox. “I wanted it to feel a little bit like these true crime podcasts that I listen to that are a little bit scary, and that always leaves me wanting more. At the time, I was listening to Serial. I was walking around outside, and it would get dark. I keep walking around because I just was so desperate to hear what happened. I wanted to give that feeling to this story. So for me, it was always an episodic show rather than a movie.”
“Jon and I talked so much about the music and the score,” Fox says. We experimented with so many different tones, with our incredible composer, Nathan Lanier. It was like, “No, that’s too kiddie. No, that’s too adult. No, that’s too this. Okay, let’s see what it would sound like if it was The Goonies soundtrack. Now we can feel something. Okay, let’s see what it would sound like if it was this soundtrack.” We found ourselves through that. What we ultimately landed on is that the score has to take Hilde as seriously as she takes herself, so the score has to be from Hilde’s perspective and how she feels, and not the audience. If it’s a moment where she’s reporting on something, she thinks she’s in Spotlight or All the President’s Men. She does not think she’s in a kids’ show ‘cause she’s not in a kids’ show. That’s how we were able to ultimately wrangle our tone into place, by taking that character as seriously as we do.”
For Fox, Lysiak is one of several young women currently stepping up to say what older generations wouldn’t dare, as she says to RogerEbert.com: “I hate that we’re looking to Greta Thunberg and Emma Gonzalez to solve these extraordinarily huge problems that we’ve created, but adults have to back those women up and help them save the world.” These are people vilified by parts of the press, but getting more done than just about anyone in the world—especially right now.”