Lady in the Water – Movie Review

As a kid, did you believe your bedtime stories? Did you ever think that a particular doorway, a tall old tree, or certain peculiar grown-ups might be more than what they seemed? If you didn’t transfer much magic from bedtime stories into your daily childhood that’s OK, but Lady In the Water might not be for you. Writer/director M. Night Shyamalan has made it his stock and trade to inject a tiny bit of the wondrous, creepy, and fantastical into seemingly mundane stories, with previous masterpieces such as Sixth Sense, and Unbreakable (as well as more-recent mediocre detours Signs and The Village). Lady In the Water is a bedtime fairy tale that decided to come to life in an apartment complex in suburban Philadelphia. Why there? You’ll enjoy it more if you don’t ask.

As with Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, or any other children’s fantasy, the more you ask for a rational explanation the more of the magic is lost. Lady In the Water dances balanced on the head of that same pin. If you try to ask what a sea nymph (also known as a narf) is doing in the apartment swimming pool, or why everyone in the building is so easily swept up by an old lady’s childhood stories, or why a bunch of ordinary individuals can actually pull off feats of magic, then you’ll probably knock it right over. Shyamalan’s movies have always featured characters with a strong belief in something extraordinary, who convince others to believe as well. In this case, building superintendent Cleveland Heep is the lucky schlub who discovers Story the narf in the pool one evening. Saving her from a wolf-like monster, he commits himself to gathering what help he needs to make her legend a reality, sending her safely home to the “Blue World”.

It’s no small challenge for Shyamalan to sell the viewer on this legend, especially when there are all kinds of rules and symbolic characters in the story. To go along with the movie, we have to believe that the legend is really unfolding before our eyes. Major suspension of disbelief is required and it’s even more difficult because of Shyamalan’s style. In a movie like Superman Returns, we easily accept a flying superhero because the movie is essentially creating an alternate reality where the Earth’s yellow sun gives this guy superhuman powers. In a Shyamalan movie, he doesn’t want to create an alternate reality, but suggests that these incredible things are happening in our own reality (possibly right under our unsuspecting noses). Part of the believability comes from the emotional reality of the characters. I think that he (and the actors) have done a pretty good job in that area. Shyamalan also has the right touch when it comes to how much fantasy to layer on.

So did I buy into the magic of the Lady In the Water? (Given my fascination and fondness for sci-fi and fantasy, I’m a likely candidate.) I have to say “kind of”. The story was not so inventive that it truly wow’d me—it was a pretty typical fairy tale. However, as I left the Cineplex and walked passed throngs of people shopping, eating and talking I found myself suddenly missing the genuine wonder and sense of fantasy that I’d been experiencing over the last two hours. (3.5 out of 5)

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