or me, M. Night Shyamalan’s
“Lady in the Water” was kind of a big deal. Over the past six or seven years, I have witnessed (as have many others) a steady decline in the quality of his films; it’s been a lot like walking down stairs. You start at the top with his first real hit “The Sixth Sense”
(although not his first film, he had two others that few people haven’t likely seen). You take a step down, and you find his next film “Unbreakable”
. It wasn’t as good as “Sixth Sense”
, but it kept you intrigued till the surprising end and was a worthy follow-up to his previous blockbuster hit. Then you take a couple of steps down and you find “Signs”
. I know many people who really enjoyed the film, but it never quite got me. I wasn’t scared, or even really interested in the plight of Mel Gibson’s
family, and didn’t buy the aliens once they finally showed up.
Despite being disappointed by “Signs”
, I held out enormous hope for his next film “The Village”
. The trailer alone had me licking my chops to see the film. But, “The Village” disappointed by not just taking us down a few more stairs, but by emphatically jumping off the stairs and trying to break through the floor into the basement below. It was, for me at least, one of the most (to quote my brother) “mind-numbing” movies ever and really made me begin to question just how lucky Shyamalan had gotten with his first two hits. Did he only have two good ones in him? Well, going into “Lady in the Water”, the score was tied 2-2, and I was honestly hoping, despite the early reviews, that Shyamalan would maybe take his new film a few steps back up the stairs.
“Lady in the Water” tells the story of Cleveland Heep (Paul Giamatti
), a superintendent of a Philadelphia apartment complex. He does all the usual chores around the building, but also keeps a close watch on the pool, which is right next to his meager apartment. He is a lonely quiet man, no doubt holding on to something from his past, but letting no one close enough to figure it out.
One night, he hears a noise in the pool, and goes out to investigate. He knows someone is in the pool, sees them try to snatch something on a pool chair, but can’t get them to come out. He gives up and begins to head back to his apartment when he slips by the side of the pool (you would think he of all people would know not to run by the pool), knocks his head on the concrete and slips in. He wakes up in his home, under a blanket, and being watched by a woman he has never seen before. She says her name is Story (Bryce Dallas Howard
), and right away Cleveland knows something is different about her, but can’t figure out what.
He knows she doesn’t live in his complex, and offers to walk her to wherever she lives, but she says she is scared and falls asleep. While she is sleeping, Cleveland hears her mutter the word “Narf.” He has never heard the word, but, lucky for him (and for the story), a yappy college student (Cindy Cheung) knows the word from a bedtime story she had heard her mother and grandmother tell. Apparently, Narfs are angelic-looking creatures from the “Blue World” who rarely appear on our planet, but when they do, it is usually for some great reason. But there are grassy, wolf-like creatures called Scrunts who will do whatever it takes to kill Narfs, although there is a law that says they can’t on certain nights. I think. But then, Scrunts are scared of the gorilla-hedgehog hybrids called Tartutics that live in the trees and enforce the law. And then there’s something about a great eagle
that will swoop down and rescue the Queen Narf, and by this point I had already stopped trying to keep up with the ludicrous details of this bizarre bedtime story.
Honestly, that’s the best way to describe the mythological story here—ludicrous. It really doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, and I had a hard time believing that a story like this would be passed down through the centuries by people unless they were very, very bored. But, having said that, I expected it to be wacky and absurd from the beginning, so I wasn’t at all surprised to be scratching my head and listening to the laughter coming from the audience at moments in the film where laughter wasn’t intended. The film, though, did hold one big surprise for me. I was actually mildly interested in how the whole mess was going to come together. I started the film expecting it to be preposterous, so, when it was, I kept on watching and began to let myself be interested in spite of its ridiculous nature.
The performances in “Lady in the Water” are passable, I suppose. Giamatti and Howard are fine in their respective roles. I was impressed with Giamatti in particular, as I realized he has a gift for making even the most laughable dialogue (of which this film has plenty) seem slightly convincing. The great Bob Balaban
shows up as a book and movie critic whose pompous attitude gets him into trouble. Jeffrey Wright’s
talents are wasted as a quiet but knowledgeable man obsessed with crossword puzzles. I enjoyed the performance of Sarita Choudhury, as the kind-hearted sister of the building’s resident writer. That writer is played by M. Night Shyamalan
. Normally, Shyamalan gives himself bit parts in all his films, but in “Lady in the Water” he dishes himself a rather substantial role, and it comes across as extremely self-absorbed. I like Shyamalan as an actor, but he is slowly losing points in my book with his obvious attempts to make himself seem more and more important to mankind.
“Lady in the Water” is lacking in most of the content that Christians would find offensive. The language is minimal. I vaguely recall hearing perhaps one or two profanities. Shyamalan’s films rarely contain any strong language, and this is no exception. There is no sexual content or nudity, although at various times in the film it is implied that Story is naked; we only see from her knees down. And for a scary film with evil wolves and murderous monkeys, there isn’t a whole lot of violence. Most of the violent scenes occur off-screen.
There are plenty of frightening moments, which is no doubt why the film obtained its PG-13 rating, so parents should be cautious of letting easily-frightened or impressionable children see this film. Parents who do decide to take their children to see the movie may end up spending more time afterwards trying to explain the story, assuming the children are even interested, which I doubt they will be.
“Lady in the Water” is such a strange movie. Fortunately for me, I enjoyed it more than I did “The Village”
, but that isn’t really saying much. Some people may like this movie, but chances are many will leave the theater either laughing at the movie’s absurdity or angry that they wasted their money. Although, as I mentioned earlier, I was slightly interested in how the film would turn out, despite its obvious absurdities, I can in no way recommend; it isn’t really worth your time.
I was not expecting “Lady in the Water” to be in any way like “The Sixth Sense”, nor was I wanting it to be. I like originality and variations, so had it been like “The Sixth Sense”, I would not have liked it either. The fact that “Lady in the Water” wasn’t a horror movie is also not the reason I did not like the film. And, yes, I understand that fairy tales have the right to be out in left field and completely ludicrous, but they have to be entertaining and engaging. In a serious movie like this one, I should never be laughing at scenes for which laughter is not intended. I don’t mind ludicrous, but, for me, “Lady in the Water” was so over the top, and in many cases, far too convenient for me to just brush aside because this film takes itself seriously. I would argue that M. Night (who has proven himself to be a fine director and writer) doesn’t make movies for the fun of it. He takes his movies seriously, which I appreciate. I expect a lot from him, because I know him to be a very smart and gifted writer, and so when one of his movies lets me down, I dislike it more than a movie from which I was expecting nothing.
Violence: Moderate / Profanity: Minor / Sex/Nudity: Minor
I left the theatre in a contemplative mood, something rare when it comes to most movies. It was inspirational in the sense that it caused me to wonder what purpose God has for me, in my seemingly insignificant life. One of the characters (ironically played by the director) is given a glimpse of his future, both the horrors and the wonderful things that will come of his work, living proof that mankind cannot see beyond this moment, but our legacy as individuals and as Christians stretch into the centuries to come.
I would highly recommend it, but not for small children—there are some very frightening sequences involving evil creatures from other worlds, attempting to prevent Story from fulfilling her purpose.