Time: 110 Minutes
Age Rating: M – contains supernatural themes
Paul Giamatti as Cleveland Heep
Bryce Dallas Howard as Story
Bob Balaban as Harry Farber
Jeffrey Wright as Mr. Dury
Sarita Choudhury as Anna Ran
Cindy Cheung as Young-Soon Choi
Freddy Rodriguez as Reggie
Bill Irwin as Mr. Leeds
Jared Harris as Goatee Smoker
M. Night Shyamalan as Vick Ran
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Cleveland Heep, an apartment superintendent, encounters a girl swimming in the complex’s pool and learns that she is actually a magical character from a story who wants to return to her world.
Lady in the Water was one of the last remaining M. Night Shyamalan movies that I had left to see. The audience reaction to his movies had been gradually shifting towards negative with every subsequent movie he made after The Sixth Sense. At worst, Signs and The Village had mixed receptions, but the negativity really started around the time of Lady in the Water. I didn’t know too much about the movie going in, I’ve heard some not so good things about it but it does have its fanbase. Thankfully, I did end up liking it.
While I don’t think it would’ve been necessarily better received had it been different, the mismarketing of the movie really didn’t help. Despite how the trailers presented it, Lady in the Water is absolutely not a horror movie. There are some horror elements for sure, but you’d call Signs or The Village more of a horror movie than this. One thing about Lady in the Water is that you couldn’t accuse Shyamalan of slacking or being lazy with it. It is an interesting movie with some imaginative and creative choices. It’s definitely ambitious and perhaps his weirdest film yet, essentially a bedtime fairytale turned into a movie. It is very genuine, endearing and understanding; it felt like a personal movie to make. and Shyamalan’s sincerity does go some way to making it sort of work. It handles a lot of themes and topics like finding one’s purpose, faith, and facing grief, and I do like the dreamy atmosphere and odd characters. At the same time, not all the choices work. A particularly derided aspect was a movie critic character played by Bob Balaban who seems to hate everything, and some have accused him as being a deliberate insert from Shyamalan as an insert for some critics who piled on some of his movies. It’s a bit of a weird choice but I didn’t hate it, at worst it is kind of amusing. While I was invested with the movie from beginning to end, the plot was a bit too convoluted, undercooked and silly, and you just sort of have to go along with it. A lot of dense lore and exposition does bog down the experience, and while I appreciate how it made a big effort to be rich in mythology, it doesn’t always work. Much like some of Shyamalan’s other movies, some of the dialogue is awkward, strange and unnatural, and it does lead to some unintentional comedy. Unfortunately, while there is a large and diverse cast and characters, most of their unique traits are very surface level and they are underdeveloped. Really only Paul Giamatti’s character is fully fleshed out. Still, I liked the experience of the movie overall.
The performances are a bit of a mixed bag, but I liked them for the most part. The standout for me was Paul Giamatti, delivering a heartfelt and convincing performance as the protagonist. Bryce Dallas Howard is the co-lead, and while she is good, her character isn’t that fleshed out. There are a lot of supporting characters, played by actors including Jeffrey Wright, Jared Harris and Freddy Rodriguez. Even Shyamalan himself shows up to play a notable part in the story.
M. Night Shyamalan’s direction is good for the most part. There are some very good visuals with colourful imagery, and cinematographer Christopher Doyle makes it feel other worldly. However, much of the CGI really hasn’t held up that well. James Newton Howard delivers an amazing score and helps to give the movie a sense of awe and wonder.
Lady in the Water is a really flawed movie, especially with the writing. It is not by any means amongst M. Night Shyamalan’s best movies, in fact it’s on the lower end of his filmography. But I liked it nonetheless; there were things that kept me interested, it is creative, sincere, and has some good visuals and performances. I think it’s worth checking out at least.