Lady In The Water

Synopsis: Lullaby. And good fright. The creator of The Sixth Sense and Signs wants to tell you a bedtime story.

A story M. Night Shyamalan told his children is the springboard for this spellbinding plunge into the supernatural. Paul Giamatti plays an apartment manager who finds an otherworld water nymph named Story (Bryce Dallas Howard) in the pool, then sets out to help her return to her home, The Blue World. “It’s about to get very dangerous,” she warns. And very fascinating. Because fierce Blue World monsters prowl nearby, determined to destroy Story — and anyone who aids her, including the apartment dwellers who come to realize they are players in her tale. Their lives have undiscovered purposes. And how they defy the monsters to fulfill those destinies forms the amazing heart of discovery in Lady in the Water.

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Lady In The Water 8.25

M. Night Shyamalan is on a cold streak. Following the impressive but slowly declining success of ‘The Sixth Sense’, ‘Unbreakable’ and ‘Signs’, he got his @$$ kicked wholesale for ‘The Village’, ‘The Lady in the Water’, ‘The Happening’ and ‘ The Last Airbender’. sad

I haven’t personally seen his first two feature lengths (‘Praying with Anger’ and ‘Wide Awake’), or his last one, but I’ve mostly enjoyed his output (in particular, I think ‘Unbreakable’ is severely under-rated, and it’s one of my favourite films of the last decade). I even have one of his movie posters on my wall.

Granted, ‘The Village’ is uneven at best, and ‘The Happening’ is hampered by a hoaky concept reminiscent of late ’50s sci-fi/horror and p!$$-poor acting, but I don’t understand the bile that’s been spewed at ‘The Lady in the Water’. In fact, I think that it’s a well-conceived film that succeeds at doing exactly what it intended to do. smile

Let me explain:

The film is based on a bedtime story that M. Night used to tell his daughters. It’s not ‘The Sixth Sense’ (by which everyone compares all his films!): it’s a bedtime story. It’s not meant to frighten adults – it’s meant to spook children and fill them with wonderment at the same time. And, as frequently is the case with bedtime stories, it’s also meant to convey a certain set of values and a moral.

Bedtime stories are not for cynics. Cynics will mostly enjoy books such as ‘Go the F- to Sleep’ – not ‘The Ugly Duckling’. tongue

I believe that M. Night has succeeded in creating a fully fleshed out bedtime story for older kids and adults. The backstory he conceived is a myth about the relationship between humans and a race of mentors. As humanity began to distance itself from its mentors, it became possessive and started to wage wars. The peace that they all once knew is now long gone, and the mentors are trying one last time to reach out and save the world.

This race of mentors are called narfs and they come from the “Blue World”. The beings that will try to stop them are scrunts. The beings who ultimately maintain justice in that world are called tartutic. Narf, scrunt, tartufi, blue world… These names alone indicate right from the beginning of the film, in its intro, that this is a bedtime story – these are not names that would be comfortable in Battlestar Galactica or Star Trek. These are clearly geared towards a younger audience, in a less reality-based tale.

Our story takes place at an apartment complex and our main character is the janitor (played by Paul Giamatti). Soon he will discover the existence of a narf residing deep below his pool. She will tell him her tale and he will try to help her return to her world. Evidently, time is of essence, scrunts are roaming about, and to return home the narf will need the assistance of a Symbolist, a Guardian, a Healer and a group of people called the Guild. No one knows who they are, so our protagonist will have to watch all the residents of the apartment complex as he goes about his work and put the pieces together.

Unlike many suspense films (ex: ‘Profondo Rosso’), the mystery isn’t impossible to piece together; all the clues are there and they make perfect sense in the end. The problem that some might find with this one is that they may be all too obvious. As a story designed for children, I’m not surprised. But what makes this film successful is that the clues are SO obvious, that they’re hidden in plain sight – and, thus, it’s easy to be misled. And that’s another example of M. Night’s skill here: he managed to hide things in plain sight and then bring them all together for the final act. To me, that’s masterful. laughing

The film, despite being both magical and spooky, is mostly a dramedy. It’s chiefly about finding clues and putting them together – and about the characters and their relationships to one another. As can be expected, we are treated to quite the assortment of quirky characters that riff off of each other in delightful, if sometime predictable, ways. But, again, this is geared towards a younger, less sophisticated audience, so it flies. And, anyway, there are plenty of subtleties in the dialogue and acting to fuel more finicky audiences. smile

The performances, in fact, are quite a treat. Paul Giamatti is amazing, as per usual, investing his character with layers of humour, disappointment, resentment and hope as few people could. He’s brilliant, and by far the standout. love struck Bob Balaban brings the right touch of snobbishness and unlikeability, but also tapers them with humour. And Cindy Cheung mixes the contrasting bimbo and intellectual stereotypes to perfection. The rest of the cast also brings the right touch to each of their roles. My only real issue is with M. Night’s own turn, as all he does is stare, mouth agape. He’s okay, but I enjoy him more in smaller doses. confused

A friend told me that he found the pacing a bit off, but I didn’t feel this myself – I thought everything was just right. In fact, it’s probably my second-favourite M. Night Shyamalan film after ‘Unbreakable’. My impression is that the film’s core are its characters, and discovering them and seeing them relate is what makes the film and story move forward. If one can buy into the basic story/myth and then let the characters take charge, it should be an enjoyable experience. smile But if one expects scares or lots of action sequences, then disappointment awaits.

Personally, I wish I had seen this film when I was 11-12 years old, still wide-eyed and unjaded – this film would have been the best thing EVER. And I suspect that, if this film had been released 25-30 years prior, the general public would have agreed. Unfortunately, it was the wrong place and wrong time for ‘The Lady in the Water’. I just hope time will be kinder to it. And to M. Night. confused

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