"Where is she going?  What does she want?  We'll never know."

LADY IN THE WATER

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis


               

                M. Night Shyamalan, who scared audiences with “Sixth Sense” and a few lesser frights, tries for a reprise with “Lady in the Water” and fails.   The movie opens with its own warning:  “Man doesn’t listen very well….those in the water are trying to reach us.”  Well, we listen very carefully to that, knowing it must be a clue to the wonderful puzzle that will surely unfold.  It isn’t.  In a strange mix of arrogance or perhaps laziness, Shyamalan forgets to tell his story.  Proceeding on the assumption that characters and setting are enough, he introduces us to an apartment complex that overlooks a swimming pool.  In the mood he establishes with dark photography and dark music, the fear factor is promising.  Who are these people who dwell in this brick building?  

                The superintendent of the “The Cove” is Cleveland Heep (Paul Giamatti), a sad faced, loyal fellow who tends to the needs of his tenants.  As we follow him on his errands to the various apartments, we try valiantly to remember the names and faces, certain that this will be necessary somewhere down the road.  It isn’t.  When Heep discovers a sea nymph (Bryce Dallas Howard) – or in this particular underwater vocabulary, a narf, he treats her with great tenderness while trying to understand her.  Where did she come from?  Where is she going?  What does she want?  We’ll never know. 

                Our narf is named Story, perhaps to tell us that in the absence of a real one, she is the story.  Unfortunately, Story is silent to the point of losing us completely as time passes slowly by.  She is the blank focus of a film just when she needs personality or eccentricities to intrigue us.  She has none.    

                We meet some ugly hybrid animals and a whole gaggle of apartment dwellers.  But, as with Story, our interest in them flags because once introduced, they lack any significance.  Even Mr. Shyamalan, who has written himself one of the bigger parts in the movie has no reason for being.  This leaves Paul Giamatti as the sole focus of our interest.  He is such a good actor that he manages to hold us, but even he is dumped over the side by writer/director Shyamalan who must take the blame for the whole mess. 

                He tries to scare us with music that accompanies creatures that jump forth from the unlikely forest that surrounds the apartment building.  As hard as we may try to navigate the forest, the creatures, the narf, and the tenants, there is no sense to be made of anything.  Even Paul Giamatti can’t carry a movie that never follows up its own leads.  The audience is given no clues to ponder, no conclusions to reach in the story that isn’t there, and that’s inexcusable.  If M. Night Shyamalan was reaching for some sort of new century spirituality, he has succeeded only in giving us a kind of unbaked hokum.       


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