Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Lady in the Water (2006)

Lady in the Water (M. Night Shyamalan, 2006)

1996, American-born Indian director M. Night Shyamalan finally got his big break. The Sixth Sense (1996), a modern day ghost story popularized by a twist ending that came unexpected, was both a critical and a huge box office success. It went on to being nominated for an Oscar Best Picture trophy. Shyamalan would continue working on scripts of supernatural mood that would more often than not end in an unexpected way. Unbreakable (2000), Signs (2002), and The Village (2004) came out like huge movie events, keeping audiences guessing what Shyamalan had under his sleeve. The masses were entertained, but most critics were becoming less impressed by Shyamalan's seemingly repetitive gimmick. Lady in the Water, Shyamalan's latest, his first without the Mickey Mouse company funding him, is supposed to be a break-away from that mold Shyamalan has trapped himself in. Still supernatural, still laced with horror, but doing away with the twist ending, the film was supposed to be a modern day fairy tale that would enchant, scare, and entertain at the same time.

Cleveland Heep (Paul Giamatti) is an apartment building caretaker who discovers a water nymph named Story (Bryce Dallas Howard) swimming at his apartment building's pool at night. With the help of Heep and the different dwellers of the building, Story would finish her mission and be taken away by a mythical eagle while escaping the clutches of another mythical creature, a wolf-like beast with red shiny eyes, and glass-like fur that would render it invisible to the untrained eye.

The story of Story is intrinsically silly. True enough, Shyamalan does not rely on a quick twist ending cheat, but instead, turns his entire film into a guessing game of who is who, and which is which. It's quite similar to a whodunit film, only this time, the audience is not tracking down who the murderer is but who among the dwellers of the apartment would fill up their mythical roles. However, unlike a whodunit film, the clues aren't what would rationally arise from the natural consequences of a logical plot, but from the consequences of Shyamalan's whim. It is as if Shyamalan has lost all wit and mistook egotism for intellect, thinking he is one master storyteller that can weave truthful tales out of nowhere.

It is not just the fact that the story is messy, unbelievable, and too weird to be of merit. It is also the fact that Shyamalan's themes are too hazy or are too egotistically shallow, that eventually weaken the film. Notions of themes of good vs evil, of faith, of age-old customs, and the importance of innocence are all spewed in random fashion, but none of such themes are exactly fleshed out to drive a point that would ground this cinematic nonsense. It is quite insulting, actually, that Shyamalan decided to play the role of the supposed intellectual revolutionary whose book would inspire a boy to change the world we live in. It is that egotistic drivel, based out of what is naturally insignificant, that disarms this irate critic. It is the notion that Shyamalan thinks he's a filmmaker to be reckoned that lead to his removal from Disney (after a disagreement over the film's script with Disney's bigwigs), and made his faithful reliance on his lone talents, that would turn this film into an utter failure. However, I did enjoy that bit with the film critic character in the film. Just goes to prove the point that Shyamalan listens to no one, he interposes dialogue accusing the film critic of being overly arrogant as to think he knows everything that will happen in storylines.

Not everything in the film is bad though. Ever-reliable Paul Giamatti gives life to the meatiest character in the film. His Cleveland Heep is all at once an everyday man: comedic, expressionistic, with a body form that would make any normal human being identify himself to. Also, there is Christopher Doyle's fluid cinematography, a welcome break from Shyamalan's stunted storytelling. Once you've resigned yourself to the fact that the story leads nowhere, you can just sit back, relax, and enjoy Doyle's wonderful visual compositions.

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