Bryce Dallas Howard in Lady in the Water (2006)


(director/writer: M. Night Shyamalan; cinematographer: Christopher Doyle; editor: Barbara Tulliver; music: James Newton Howard; cast: Paul Giamatti (Cleveland Heep), Bryce Dallas Howard (Story), Jeffrey Wright (Mr. Dury), Bob Balaban (Harry Farber), Sarita Choudhury (Anna Ran), Cindy Cheung (Young-Soon Choi), M. Night Shyamalan (Vick Ran), Freddy Rodriguez (Reggie), Bill Irwin (Mr. Leeds), Mary Beth Hurt (Mrs. Bell), Jared Harris (Goatee Smoker), David Ogden Stiers (narrator), June Kyoto Lu (Mrs. Choi), Tovah Feldshuh (Mrs. Bubchik), Noah Gray-Cabey (Joey Dury); Runtime: 98; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producer: M. Night Shyamalan/Sam Mercer; Warner Bros. Pictures; 2006)

“The only frightening thing about this horror fantasy film was in how bad it was.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Once promising young auteur M. Night Shyamalan, after his initial smash sleeper hit “The Sixth Sense,” seems to be drowning in the shallowness and pretentiousness of his recent films such as “Unbreakable” and “The Village.” His shtick is to slap together a horror film with a twisty gimmick ending that is uplifting. This modern day fairy tale comes across as a cobbled together and disjointed children’s book tale, resembling something created by an amateur turning in a film project…it’s that bad. It’s told in a hushed voice, introduced by an unseen narrator (David Ogden Stiers) solemnly talking over black-and-white cave-paintings depicted on the screen and, to the bargain, sticking in awkward self-conscious humor that makes an already bad story even more of a bad joke. Shyamalan seems to be trying to prove he’s a Spielberg-like storyteller, but that act is just not working for the overrated filmmaker.

It’s set in a Philadelphia apartment building complex, the Cove, of multicultural misfits, where stuttering kind-hearted janitor Cleveland Heep (Paul Giamatti) has sought refuge after being unable to face a secret tragedy from his past. Here he tries to seek redemption and finds the answers to his prayers, a purpose in his life, when he attempts to save a young woman named Story (Bryce Dallas Howard) from drowning, only to discover that she is a water nymph, “a narf,” (a female from a children’s story) living underneath the building’s swimming pool and her life is being threatened by horror story beasties. Story tells Cleveland of her wish to return home to the Blue World, but fears the beasties. After tracking down her fairy tale story through tenants, who just happen to know the fairy tale, Young-Soon Choi (Cindy Cheung) and her non-English speaking mother (June Kyoto Lu), Cleveland rallies the diverse tenants together in an attempt to save her life and return her safely in time to the water people. It’s further learned that all the tenants can be viewed as characters in the fable and must all chip in to help decipher the clues that will allow them to be her channel homeward. The catch is, if they don’t do it in time there’s danger lurking in the dark surroundings from beasties such as scrunts (devil dogs) and tartutics (monkeylike creatures). Also, there’s something said about how Story may somehow save the world through the important message she brings. Which comes across as clear as mud, much like the entire venture.

The multicultural tenants consist of Jewish, Indian, Afro-Americans, white, Puerto Rican and Korean family members, who incredulously all come together without a moment’s hesitance to save the heroine when told about the bedtime story. There’s also a rigid, unlikable and caustic film critic (Bob Balaban) as a tenant, who addresses the camera and fills us in on the overall plot before he gets his comeuppance. The director himself takes a major role as Vick, an aspiring cookbook writer who has something important to tell the world (Oh my, goodness!). It’s not only questionable at this point if Shyamalan has much ability as a director, but it goes without question that as an actor he’s a complete dud. The only frightening thing about this horror fantasy film was in how bad it was.