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)