We will start off this review with a, "What the hell did I just watch?" This "What the hell," which, before writing this review was something much more graceful and contained the letter "F," is not completely out of animosity, but more out of bewilderment toward M. Night Shyamalan's strange, unique, original, convoluted, cheesy fairy tale "horror" movie.
There's no need to go into Shyamalan's resume, which started off with a bang, held strong for quite a while, and is starting to get disturbingly sketchy as it goes along. Up until "Signs," I had complete confidence in him. "The Village," while not necessarily bad, was so deceptively marketed that I was heavily disappointed. And now there is "Lady in the Water," a movie I knew would be original, but also one that would either work just right or be a complete disaster.
It didn't work just right.
The story is about a depressed man named Cleveland Heap (Paul Giamatti) who keeps hearing someone swimming in a pool but is never able to find the person - until he hits his head, almost drowns, and is rescued by a narf, otherwise known as a sea nymph, called Story (Bryce Dallas Howard). She's from another world and has come to connect with a writer who will go on to do great things - but to return she will have to find help from certain human beings, as there are dangerous creatures lurking in the nearby lawn grass (yes) that would like nothing more than to eat her.
If this doesn't sound weird to you, I don't know what would, but "Lady in the Water" is a weird movie. Strangely enough, Shyamalan decides to tell us the entire background of the mysterious character in the opening credits via an uber-lame animation sequence.
Gone is Shyalaman's mood setting, his slow build-up to something great (and I don't necessarily mean a twist ending), his camera angles, his offbeat, quiet humor and just about everything else that makes a Shyamalan movie work. That's not to say I don't give him props for trying something new - this is certainly the first movie where his characters are actually upbeat and don't just stare longingly at their cereal bowl. Then again, the characters here are so goofy and outrageous at times that it is impossible to truly take the movie seriously, even when it is trying to be.
"Lady in the Water" is original in that Shyamalan certainly is trying to tell a modern fairy tale, but his attempts to mock predictability by discussing the clichés out loud (generally voiced through a movie critic character who inevitably is one of the few victims of the monsters - one of the most heartfelt moments of the movie) falls flat. Had Shyamalan clearly wanted to make a comedy, all of this might have worked, but he certainly was just trying to inject funnier characters into what was once again marketed as a horror movie, when in fact his funny characters are much shallower than in previous films, and the movie is anything but scary. Run-on sentence alert.
To ramble aimlessly, the acting is good. Giamatti delivers what we all expect - greatness - and Howard is pretty good as the sea nymph, though I never found her character to be very engaging at all. Her whole job in the movie is simply to come out of the water, meet a dude face to face, and then fly away. How interesting. Other supporting cast members are entertaining, though they certainly don't have much depth. We have the stereotypical Asian girl who talks in broken English, her mother who is serious the entire time, a bunch of weed-smoking roommates, a flower lady who attracts butterflies and delivers some of the worst lines in the movie, and Shyamalan himself who is more distracting than anything else as he continues to give himself larger and larger roles.
While I didn't like "Lady in the Water," I almost have to recommend this one to everyone. I know people who have hated it, loved it and everything in the middle, and it is certainly one of the more unique films you will see - at least in mainstream format. Then again, while it may seem deep or refreshing or consistently intelligent to some, I see it as a random, convoluted mess that is made up of a bunch of weird characters and instances that never really click together.
The concept is there, but Shyamalan made a mistake when trying to make the movie funny. Had his approach been to deliver a comedy, "Lady in the Water" might have been something, but instead he is trying to be serious while never allowing his characters to be so. I wasn't expecting a twist ending and didn't get one, but the ending is so pathetically dull that had I not been wishing the movie would end for the previous half hour, I would have asked for my money back. Okay, not really.
"Lady in the Water" is original both in concept and the fact that I have no clue what to say about it (except for the countless paragraphs above). Unfortunately, it rarely works on any level. I'm glad I watched this film, and yet it is one of the most disappointing movies of the summer.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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