Gautaman Bhaskaran
an indian journalist
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Other Movies


Lady in the Water – Not even a fairytale: Review

Manoj Night Shyamalan appears so desperate to create novelty that he slips in his latest film, “Lady in the Water” (opened in Madras/Chennai in July 2006), disappointing audiences and his new producer, Warner Brothers. The movie took the lowest ever collection for a Shyamalan work during its first weekend in the U.S.

Writer-director Shyamalan weaves a paranormal adventure around a swimming pool that is surrounded by an apartment complex, housing, it seems, a mini United Nations. The building caretaker, Cleveland Heep, harassed and stuttering in the best of times, has to learn the story of a frail water creature that Shyamalan calls “narf” from a Korean mother-daughter duo. In what first seems like a fantasy, Heep is puzzled when he is rescued by the narf, a nymph-like female that chooses to remain in just a shirt, when he falls into the pool.

Paul Giamatti and Bryce Dallas Howard
As the tale unfolds, mostly from the Korean mother, we learn that a narf is a water being that comes out of its world to convey a message to humans, and that it can return only with the help of a human specially empowered to do so. The narf’s enemy is a “scrunt”, which to me resembled the fire-breathing hound in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic, “The Hound of the Baskervilles”. Every time, the narf wanted to return, waiting for a majestic eagle from the sky to lift it out of this world, the scrunt attacked, and there are a couple of scenes that give viewers a real start.

But this is precisely Shyamalan’s folly of trying to mix what starts off as a pleasant fairy tale (he is supposed to have narrated this to his daughters as a bedtime story) and a dark mystery. What emerges from this cocktail is a bizarre film that leaves us not just dissatisfied but also irritated, much in the same way his earlier “The Village”, “Unbreakable” and “Signs” did.

Yet, Shyamalan wants us to believe in him like the way the residents in the apartment unquestioningly take in everything the caretaker says! We have an interpreter of signs who solves crossword puzzles, an animal healer, a cynical book/movie critic (perhaps Shyamalan’s way of getting back at all the unflattering reviews he has had), an Indian writer and his sister. All these people buy Heep’s fairytale with not even pretence of a murmur. Not one of them thinks he can be mad dropping in at their flats with such an unbelievable story. Have faith in me, Shyamalan appears to be saying, rather whispering in the dark.

Shot by Christopher Doyle, renowned for his work for Wong Kar-wai, “Lady in the Water” tries to build an eerie atmosphere by mistakenly believing that lighting the set with flickering candles – or so it seems – will produce the desired effect. It does not, and the frames look foggy and unimpressive, with a microphone sometimes appearing at the top.

There are moments of joy in the movie – as when one spends time with Paul Giamatti, who is marvellous as the tortured soul, Heep. His pain at having had to live with a secret and his child-like concern when he finds that he has to save the narf are brilliantly etched out. But unfortunately, Bryce Dallas Howard as the narf called Story has little to do except look pure and unblemished, and yes wet most of the time. If she brings a yawn to us, we find it difficult to stifle it when we watch Shyamalan as the writer. He has been giving himself a cameo – a la Hitchcock -- in his movies, but here in “Lady in The Water”, it extends beyond that. So wooden and lifeless that Shyamalan is, he could have well kept himself out of the frames.

Shyamalan is certainly no auteur. He is just another director, who has been compared with Steven Spielberg, though rather unfairly. Yes, some still feel Shyamalan has promise. We have not seen that since his first, “The Sixth Sense”, which garnered a couple of Academy nominations for him.

(Posted on this website on July 28 2006)