On a whim last night, I made a trip to Blockbuster (it’s been about a year — boy is that place losing business.) I was in the mood for a challenge and so I picked up M. Night Shyamalan’s Lady in the Water. The trailer I had seen was appropriately mysterious and other than the fact that Paul Giamatti and Bryce Dallas Howard were in the film, I didn’t know much else about it.
Before I hop into the review, I need to say a few words in defense of Night. I’ve heard folks say that he’s ‘gimmicky’ and that in person he’s very cocky with a big ego. I don’t know much about his personality, but I think folks should be going a little easier on him. I wasn’t a huge fan of The Sixth Sense or Unbreakable. Particularly for The Sixth Sense, I think it was a very mysterious film that created a unique and eerie mood, but it was also very overrated. However, starting with Signs, I really started to become a fan. For each of his films, he manages to capture that sense of tension and suspense that carry your attention throughout the story. This film is no exception. For his ability to create tension….truly unpredictable suspense (where you have no idea of what’s going to happen next) I think he should be commended.
The area where people often try to take stabs at Night are for his endings. I had to watch The Sixth Sense a few times to appreciate how much of a technical marvel it was to have the film work on two completely different levels — even after you understand the ending. But after that film, people started looking for the “signature revelation at the end” and were pissed if it didn’t come. And in most films, Night kept giving it to us. I’m no genius, but in The Village, I saw the ending coming after about 20 minutes into the film. But unlike so many others, I didn’t let that take away from my enjoyment of the film. Taking your focus away from the ending, I think the movie is exceptionally entertaining, suspenseful, and, at times, shocking. I think people should take a break from trying to judge Night by “the strength of the endings” and enjoy the journey that he’s taking us on to get there. We all know where Space Mountain is going to let us out — the exit is right within view. But does that take away from the ride that happens in between the line and the exit?
The last area where Night is incredibly strong is in his sense of creativity — and this is where I’ll begin to discuss this film, Lady in the Water. In each film after The Sixth Sense, Night has managed to create a science fiction story within everyday settings. He brings us intricate, creative worlds with detail and rules that quickly help us to get into the lore of his story. Lady has this sci-fi theme perhaps more than any of his other films since Signs. Bryce Dallas Howard plays an other worldly creature who enters into the lives of a small community of people. To say any more would be ruining the journey. Night establishes the fact that Howard’s character is from another world within the first 20 minutes of the movie and spends the next hour plus developing the plot and keeping us guessing. This development happens sometimes at a very slow pace, and I found myself being easily distracted and occasionally even bored.
Lady can probably be best appreciated by lovers of sci-fi or comic books, but if you’re watching an M. Night Shyamalan film, well….you should already have expected that! There’s a world that we’re introduced to that cause you to absolutely put on your imaginative cap. If movies like Lord of the Rings and The Matrix upset you because they force you to stretch the capacity of your mind to include this “other world” — even for only two hours — this isn’t the one for you. Also, people looking for deep drama and Oscar-worthy emotional performances should look elsewhere. Especially when Night himself is onscreen. (More on that later.)
There are some solid character actors in the film. Jeffrey Wright (one of my favorites and a truly underrated actor) plays a small but interesting role. Paul Giamatti plays the same guy that he plays in almost every film. For me, his lack of versatility in leading roles is almost detracting from his credibility at this point. For the past five or six films, he’s the nervous, on-edge, slightly overweight, talkative, self-conscious-but loveable guy. This film is no exception. (Taking a slight tangent, I’d really like to see Giamatti start to challenge himself and act in roles that require him to venture out a bit. Perhaps play a villain. Or a womanizer. Anything but the guy from Sideways again. We’ve seen that already.) Continue reading ‘Lady in the Water: Review’