Movie Review: Lady in the Water

With things like The Sixth Sense and Unbreakableon his resume you have to hope that writer/director M. Night Shyamalan, when given basically a blank slate to create a movie, could come up with something inspiring and enthralling. Unfortunately the descriptions that apply to the mess that is Lady in the Water are more along the lines of “pretentious,” “ridiculous,” and even just “downright terrible.”

When apartment building superintendent Cleveland Heep rescues who he thinks is a tenant from the pool he soon finds out she’s a creature from an old bedtime story that is trying to make her way back to her home known as The Blue World (rolling your eyes yet?). Mr. Heep and the rest of the apartment tenants must band together to help her achieve her safe return back by fighting off another creature who is determined to keep her in our world.

Shyamalan’s problem that he is a better director than he is a writer is more evident here than in all of his work (including the recent The Happening). Although there is a certain admirability about the fact that he’s trying to do something unique, the problem is the result is still that damn bad, originality or no originality. It’s not even so bad that it becomes good in that sort of guilty pleasure kind of way; it’s just outright bad. And it’s a shame as there are aspects, such as the background story of the main character and just the overall mythology, that shine of potential had they been applied in a different way or perhaps in a different film altogether. I have no doubt the movie world would be far better off if Shyamalan had just immediately walked way from this one the minute he put the first word on paper.

Lady in the Water could readily be described as the opposing side of The Happening’s coin. They share the inconsistencies, the countless examples of misdirection, and lack of trademark Shyamalan elements, particularly the twist we have come to expect from him. But in the case of The Happening there is far more going on to get enjoyment out of, there are at least some intended moments of horror or mystery that somewhat work. But here it just misfires on almost every single note throughout the entire film; it comes off as laughable when it should be awe-inspiring (such as when we get told different descriptions of various different mystical creatures), it causes you to roll your eyes when you should be enthralled or amazed, and it makes you shake your ahead in disbelief of how the heck this movie was allowed to be filmed much less for people to pay to see it in on the big-screen (or on DVD for that matter).

I just cannot fathom how Shyamalan could have been writing this script and not see that it’s embarrassing and laughable. I would struggle to count the moments on four hands the amount of times I thought, “Did they actually just say those words?” Lines such as, “He’s hearing the voice of God through a crossword puzzle!” and “My mom told me more of the story before she threw a cushion at me,” that inspire unintentional snickering from the viewer. One starts to think whether or not the humour was intentional, however the rest of the film is so intent on playing out its ideas with such conviction that I think the laughs come very much unintentionally.

Aside from the pretentiousness of Shyamalan actually making this film and thinking anything he does will be pure gold (because, of course, he’s the guy who made The Sixth Sense, right?) there is one plot point that is all sorts of condescending and pretentious. He appears himself in the film in a small role (as he usually does) but, according to him, an important one. He deems it fit to put himself in his own movie as a writer who this “lady in the water” tells that in the future he will write a book that will effectively change mankind. He actually thinks making himself a sort of writer of “the new Bible”, as the film might as well call it, inspires admiration. Well it doesn’t; it comes off as indulgent and self-loving, an added element that doesn’t help when the rest of the movie is as bad as it is.

There is very little reason to even bother spending any amount of time on this film. Paul Giamatti is at least watchable (and when is he not?) and there is a book and film critic character that does invoke a few comedic moments but that’s about it really. It saddens me when a film has me struggling to think of elements that make it anywhere near worthwhile; I would love it if it was always the other way around.

One of Lady in the Water’s many, many core problems is the fact that it just assumes we’ll buy into this mythology that it’s created from the beginning onwards. The problem is it rushes into it within the first ten minutes, running with the mystical storyline but never allowing us any time to start believing in it ourselves. If it had done exactly that maybe we could forgive some of its ridiculous elements that we come across later on. However seeing that it’s more interested in doing exactly what it wants to do and less interested in engaging its audience the result is one dreadful motion picture.

(Originally posted at Blog Critics)