Lady in the Water

This week, M. Night Shyamalan announced his next movie, Glass, in a tweet that made me question a) his use of the word “always” and b) the wisdom behind continually indulging the man responsible for Lady in the Water.

If there’s any justice.

This 2006 baffler stars a ridiculous Paul Giamatti as a stammering janitor called Cleveland Heep (which sounds like a ’70s rock band), who’s visited one day by a nymph called Story (Bryce Dallas Howard) – as in “what the fuck is happening in this idiotic Story?” When I say nymph, I don’t mean she’s sex-mad; this is a typically chaste movie by Shyamalan, although Story does spend the majority of the film sitting naked in the shower. She’s a water nymph, or in Shyamalanese, a ‘Narf’. Which happens to be the exact noise I made when I heard that name.

She explains that she comes from the ‘Blue World’ (I think it’s a shop in Soho) and that she’s being kept from returning by a canine creature called a ‘Scrunt’. That must be the closest a Shyamalan film has ever come to swearing, followed by “cheese and crackers!” in The Happening. Fortunately, there’s an elderly Chinese woman living in the same building, who knows an old bedtime story about the Narf, so they can follow the story to get Story home. Look, just go with it alright? Is something I imagine Shyamalan said on set a lot.

This is oddly similar not only to a feverish dream I once had, but also the Adam Sandler film Bedtime Stories. Both are about bedtime stories, set in hotels or apartment complexes, and featuring racist caricatures. The only real difference, apart from Lady in the Water being slightly funnier, is that Bedtime Stories was successfully picked up by Disney. The story goes that Disney studio chairman Dick Cook didn’t “get” Shyamalan’s idea (surely not), so M. took his project to a studio undeterred by shit not making sense: Warner Bros. It lost them about $30m, while Disney seem to be doing ok.

M. evidently had a bee in his bonnet (or hives in his trunks), because he cast himself as a messianic writer who’d one day save the world with his brilliant, brilliant writing. We’re supposed to accept that the artistic saviour of the world is the man who wrote this film. And this, from The Village, my favourite Shyamaline:

To make matters worse, the closest the movie has to a villain is a rude, arrogant film critic (Bob Balaban) – even though, as Mark Kermode’s justifiably shouty review points out, film critics had been quite kind to Shyamalan so far, and without them he’d have been unable to get such a stupid film made in the first place. But they’re the arrogant ones, and he’s the writer who’ll save the world. In his head he’s Orson Welles meets Alfred Hitchcock by way of Jesus Christ; in reality he’s Adam Sandler.

What even is this movie? It’s not a comedy, because the few funny moments are meant to be serious. Fairytales tend to have some semblance of subtext, so that can’t be right either. Really it’s a vanity project of the most risible kind; a work of sheer hubris, whose plot is based on a bedtime story M. told his children, which explains why it sounds like he’s just making it up as he goes along. Because he is.

You should see the director’s head.

That’s why it features dialogue like “there is a rare Narf who comes once in a generation of Narfs who is called the Madam Narf”, a character who interprets hidden messages on cereal boxes, and some creatures with a name pronounced “tattooed dick.” I’m still not sure what they are, but apparently “no one who has seen them has lived.” Though some would argue you haven’t lived until you’ve seen a tattooed dick.

Lady in the Water combines Shyamalan’s twin passions: 1) weirdos spouting nonsense at each other while clearly not knowing what’s going on, and 2) himself. An inane, intolerable, incongruous mess, it’s probably his worst movie – and that’s some stiff competition. Stiff like a rotting corpse. Kermode described it as: “like somebody standing in a cinema, pouring petrol on their head and setting fire to themselves; a whole career going down in flames.” And it should have been. But no. 10 years later, M. is still at large, and is now in the process of forcing Glass down our throats, while those rude, arrogant film critics insist on reappraising him. Narf off you Scrunts.


3 responses to “Lady in the Water

  1. Pingback: Battlefield Earth | Screen Goblin·

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