Lady in the Water

M. Night Shyamalon is one of the odder ducks in the pantheon of American Auteurs. As I pointed out in my review of The Village, he has made a living making films that end with a twist. I also mentioned that that was a pretty tight corner to paint himself into. Another hallmark of his films are their dense, almost claustrophobic atmospheres and intense stories. There’s no doubt that Shyamalon is a talented filmmaker, but there’s something offputting about his work. I admire Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signs, and the Village, but I’ve never felt the need to see them more than once. 

Every one of the above mentioned films occurs in it’s own separate world. This is the case with every film of course, but ‘s creations are more insular than most. And I don’t think that serves him very well. Lady in the Water is an almost perfect example. Cleveland Heep, played by Paul Giamatti is a super in an apartment building in Philadelphia, where almost all Shyamalon’s plots take place. One night, he discovers a girl in the swimming pool. Her name is Story and she is a Narf, an ancient race of sea dwellers that used to interact with men until we turned away from them. Now they occasionally send envoys to our world, trying to reestablish contact. These representatives are hunted by doglike creatures called skrunts. Cleveland must find a way to get story safely back to her world. To do this he must learn the ancient Chinese myths about the Narf and assemble a team of archetypes from the apartment complex’s stable of eccentrics.

Not being an expert on Chinese mythology, or even bedtime stories, I’m not a hundred percent certain, but I suspect that Shyamalon created these stories out of whole cloth. This gives the movie an unreal quality. Also for a myth handed down as a bedtime story over several millennia and then translated into English, the myth of the Narfs is remarkably accurate and not all that vague.

Of course this is a choice. Shyamalon is saying something about storytelling and translation here and has sacrificed a little verisimilitude to do it. And that’s the problem I have with Lady in the Water. It feels morelike a cultural anthropology thesis than a horror movie.

Taking that into account, it is a reasonably entertaining film. The performances are good. Paul Gia turns in his usual excellent job. His speech at the climax is great. Bryce Dallas Howard as Story, isn’t really given much to do beyond being cryptic, and the cast of oddballs in the apartment complex, including Shyamalon himself is entertaining.  It’s great to see Bill Erwin in anything.

Shyamalon goes his own way, largely unaffected by the outside world. He’s one of our more talented filmmakers but I fear that unless he learns to connect with us emotionally more consistently, his films will descend into mere intellectual exercises.


1 Response to “Lady in the Water”

  1. 1 matthewbam July 31, 2006 at 4:17 am

    Now that I’m older, I think I could kind of go for some mythology. I’ve been looking for something to read lately.

    Hope your library has my book–“Digital Art Photography for Dummies!”

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July 2006
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