Monday, 28 September 2020
Lady in the Water
Written by Sandra Fitzpatrick   
Monday, 24 July 2006 20:23

M. Night Shyamalan’s name has become synonymous with surprise twist movie endings. Love him or hate him there is no denying that Shyamalan had an impact on the film industry with his film The Sixth Sense, launching a string of copy-cat thrillers who’s punch-line was “they’re all dead”. His popularity has dwindled with each successive offering since with films like Unbreakable (which has an “underground” following), Signs (“way-underground” following), and The Village (“so far underground they’ve become blind albino’s” following). Somehow I think that his latest offering Lady in the Water won’t find much of a following since it doesn’t have a clue who its target audience is.

Do I think there are movies that can appeal to anyone? Absolutely. Is Lady in the Water one of these films? Unfortunately no. Despite the fact that Shyamalan wrote the story as a bedtime tale for his daughters, the movie is far too plodding and bloated to appeal to a younger audience. Adults may find it hard to contend with the unconvincing mythology that Shyamalan has created. I am probably one of the easiest targets a fantasy film has to win over having been an addict since The Dark Crystal when I was four years old. But somehow this tale of Narf’s and Scrunts just didn’t capture me.

The movie is quick to set up it’s mythology from the get-go, displaying the legend of the Blue World in what looks like animated cave art. Ages ago humans lived under the water in a place called the Blue World. Gradually, some moved out, moving farther and farther inland and forgetting about their ancestors under the sea. The water people called “Narfs” now journey to our world to find specific humans called “Vessels” who need to see the Narf in order to fulfill their destiny. The enemy of these mermaid-like creatures is called a “Scrunt” and looks like a big dog with grass sods on it’s back.

Paul Giamatti plays Cleveland Heep, the stuttering custodian of an apartment complex full of colorful characters. One night he hears splashing in the water and discovers a lovely young girl in the pool. She is Story (Bryce Dallas Howard), a Narf who can only return to the Blue World once she finds her Vessel. Oddly enough he believes her story right away and sets out to help her, sifting through the residents of the apartment complex to find various people who can help.

I meant it when I said the apartment dwellers were colorful. There is a large Asian family, an old lady who rescues animals, a guy who only works out one side of his body, among many others. There is also an ill-abused movie critic who Shyamalan obviously uses as a punching bag for his frustration with bad reviews! Shyamalan himself plays a writer whose book will change the world. Somehow that didn’t seem so egotistical when Stephen King did it in his Dark Tower series.

Cleveland has to find out more about the legend of the Blue World and does so by asking an old Asian lady. I’m no expert but Narf and Scrunt don’t sound like Asian words to me. She tells him he must gather a group that includes a guardian, a symbologist, a healer and so on. There are so many characters in the movie that we go through them all at least twice before finding the right combination. The problem is that once we find them we have no idea why we needed them in the first place. A good supporting cast is wasted on roles that never really amount to anything.

Speaking of a wasted cast, Bryce Dallas Howard is as lovely a Narf as any could expect to find living in their swimming pool. As the title character she should have been a bigger focus, but she isn’t given the opportunity to do more than shiver in the corner. I barely remember hearing her speak at all.

I think the ideas presented in Lady in the Water had a lot of potential. I could see this having been a great mini-series, with one episode focusing on each character in the building and then tying together toward the end. M. Night Shyamalan is presenting a story that he himself created, but he is telling it the wrong way. I give Lady in the Water 5 out of 10 stars.