There’s usually a particular kind of film that comes to mind when you say the name M. Night Shyamalan. You expect a darker, much more brooding than a usual film with an emphasis on themes such as death and despair, surrounded by an aura of suspense and mystery (check out our reviews of The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signs, The Village, Split, Glass or Old). However, that’s not the case here with Lady in the Water. This is an outlier in Shyamalan’s filmography, a film so unique to this director that it doesn’t even feel like a Shyamalan film. Perhaps, this is why the film was so misunderstood.
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The Movie Review
Shyamalan attempts to tell an East Asian legend in Lady in the Water from his own modernized, westernized viewpoint. A superintendent of an apartment building full of unremarkably ordinary people encounters this tale. From the apartment complex’s pool, a weird yet lovely and beautiful young woman has emerged. Why, you may ask? Well, she’s seeking touch with the outside world in order to locate mythical archetypes who can save her from the terrible beings that hunt her and transport her back to her underwater home.
I always anticipate being entertained and stimulated when I watch an M. Night Shyamalan movie, but I never know exactly how this will be done. Films by M. Night Shyamalan employ ambiguity for aesthetic purposes and entice viewers with the promise of interpretive involvement. Among all of his movies though, Lady in the Water may accomplish this in the best way. I walked away from the movie wondering “What did I even watch?” despite the fact that I completely understood the story, the ideas, and the motivation on why he made it.
The movie can be categorized quite simply, it’s a comedy in the style of absurdism. However, it makes you wonder why you are laughing at what’s going on, which is very rare in any comedies, and very rare for Shyamalan to even make a comedy! Given Shyamalan’s mind, I find it tough to accept that any of the humor in this movie was an accident. The grimmest of the Grimm brothers’ traditions are present in the gloomy imagination that makes up Lady in the Water’s darker aspects.
In fact, the acting was rather terrific as well, particularly Paul Giamatti, who is always fantastic. Bryce Dallas Howard was compelling even though she appeared to act in the same way that she did in The Village. The cast as a whole got along well. You could criticize M. Night for playing an actually proper role in his own movie, despite him being known for cameos. However, he showed that he can act quite well. No, his performance didn’t and shouldn’t earn him an Oscar, but I do believe he had definite potential here.
The camera angles were creative—yes, you may call them inventive even. I may have already discussed how important camera angles are to me when watching a movie, but this is how I can tell if the production crew paid attention to details. Every scene looks beautiful thanks to some amazing shot composition, and an M. Night Shyamalan movie’s color grading is always perfect. The finished result was flawlessly polished.
The only aspect where I can criticize this film extensively is the soundtrack. You’d think with a film name as beautiful as Lady in the Water, there would be a pretty soundtrack. Alas, that’s nowhere to be found. It’s got some nice tunes but it’s nothing to write home about, it’s even kind of annoying at times when it uses the same two to three tunes again and again.
This is an outlier in M. Night Shyamalan’s filmography for a purpose. This film isn’t scary, it’s not overly violent and it doesn’t feature a threat that’s too haunting for the audience. It’s an absurdist comedy film, with a ridiculous plot that it manages to make a solid storyline out of. Sure, it’s a different film than what you’d expect going in for a Shyamalan film, but it’s something that’s really unique and well-made nonetheless. It might not be his best work, but it’s one of his most varied works to date.
- A bizarre and funny story
- Great characters, well-acted and greatly developed
- The visuals are so overly impressive, great cinematography, camerawork and color grading
- The script is so funny, with some highly philosophical statements and questions
- The music is severely underwhelming compared to the rest of the film