Lady in the Water

ARCHIVE: from Idiot Ego Issue 3
(reprinted without permission)

I am a sucker for an M. Night Shamalan movie. Yeah, I even liked "The Village." But lately I am noticing some alarming trends, and he's starting to worry me. "Lady in the Water" is pretty much a complete failure. I liked the look of it, and the music too, but not much else. You won't find too many fans of this film.

That said, part of me wants to defend this movie. I can't help but feel that the studio system is the reason for Shamalan's declining popularity. Hollywood doesn't know how to promote a new Shamalan movie other than as a summer thrillride (Unbreakable being the only exception among his 5 films.) There is a deliberately misleading disconnect between the way that his films are advertised and what they actually are. Lady in the Water is no thrillride. It's a kid's movie, at best. With better execution, it might have found a place among classics like The Dark Crystal and The Witches as a scary/fun kids movie that adults could enjoy too. Instead, it winds up like a cross between The Neverending Story and some really lame episode of "Are You Afraid of the Dark."

I stayed away from this for a long time, and went into it once the backlash had died, content to accept it as the family oriented "bedtime story" I had heard it described as in reviews. But in viewing the film, it became evident exactly how troubling Lady in the Water is. Shamalan is trusting himself way too much, and it's hurting him. Once again he casts himself, this time in a larger role as a writer who's ideas "will change the world." He even allows a moment in the film to literally kill off a sniveling film critic character. The rest of the film is a slap-dash combination of stereotypes and bad ideas, masquerading as playful novelty.

It is also somewhat troubling the way that Shamalan chooses to shoot his female lead Bryce Dallas Howard. It's all very sensual. She's supposed to be a force for good in the movie, and I found myself wishing that Shamalan would cut away from Paul Giamatti as a voyeur, trying not to look when "Story," this other-worldly young Narf, whom he observes as being "just a kid" (Howard is 25, but still..) naively slips off her clothes in his apartment. Too many lingering shots of wet and naked appendages.

If Shamalan wants to be Hitchcock so bad, he needs to think of himself more as a craftsman and less as an autuer. He needs to stop giving into these terrible impulses. Maybe start working with smaller budgets. Maybe direct a script or two that he didn't write. Maybe stay behind the camera. I don't blame him for not wanting to make the same movie over and over again, but there are better ways of experimenting than just throwing things at the wall, seeing what sticks, and then dumping it into theaters. He has produced two major box office failures in a row, and I don't think he has any more second chances to play with. I still have a shitload of faith in Shamalan as a film maker. His skills and his influences are on the right place. His heart is too, but he lets it get the best of him. This is his weakest effort. Lady in the Water is completely fucking ridiculous. He's young, guys. He'll learn.. I hope.

No comments: