It also might have helped if the ersatz mythology weren't quite so silly. Names like "narf" and "scrunt" sound more like those cheesy fight-scene effects from the Batman shows of the '50s. Blam! Dip! Scrunt! The film began as a bedtime story for his children, which may explain its disjointed and simplistic structure. It's certainly not a movie for kids though - the beasties will scare the hell out of them, and the rest will confuse or bore them. As talkshow host Jon Stewart remarked after being told by Shyamalan that his stories did not give him nightmares: "You may not dream, but your kids are f**cking terrified!"
We could perhaps have forgiven these faults if the film remained true to itself, but its self-indulgent streak is inexcusable. For Shyamalan to cast himself in his own film is bad enough, but to give himself the part of a messianic writer who words will change history is beyond the pale. There's also a nasty cynical edge to some parts of the film that jars with the quasi-mythical style. The only unlikable character in the story is a film critic (yes, really), and Shyamalan takes great pleasure in killing him off, despite the fact that this adds nothing to the movie.
As for the wonderful cast, they do their best with the material, but they are hamstrung by writing that turns them into agents of the plot instead of believable characters. The beautiful and talented Bryce Dallas Howard is wasted on this static role. This is her second feature with Shymalan and she looks set to become his muse. Paul Giamatti suffers manfully through his role, bringing pathos to what could have been an utterly limp character.
For all its faults, Lady in the Water still has some flashes of brilliance. Even at his most infuriating, Shymalan has a talent for tapping into the dark power of human imagination. In that respect he can hold his own next to the likes of Terry Gilliam, Tim Burton and even his own idol, Alfred Hitchcock. But, like all those filmmakers, when he wallows in unstructured creativity he makes unwatchable films (Gilliam's recent The Brothers Grimm is another good example).
Perhaps the most depressing thing about Lady in the Water is the amount of ammunition it provides for Shymalan's detractors. Many have denounced him as a charlatan - a peddler of cheap parlour tricks - and this sort of muddled claptrap only validates those slurs. His fans can only hope he will rally with his next film and prove the critics wrong. Whatever they may say, a world without the fevered visions of M. Night Shyamalan would be a poorer place indeed.
- Alistair Fairweather
We've been eagerly awaiting this new offering from the makers of The Sixth Sense. Pity it's so silly, self-indulgent and emotionally soggy.
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Hands of Stone is a bland, unlikable portrayal of a real-life boxer that struggles to hit the highs of Rocky IV let alone Raging Bull or the original Rocky. Mark this one down as “for boxing fanatics only”. Read More »
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