What M. Night Shyamalan does best, has always done best, is make a hero out of a broken person. Throughout all his films the underlying factor is grief, and how that drives a person. In The Sixth Sense Dr. Malcolm hides from his true grief by wrapping himself up in Cole’s grief. And when he finally faces the truth of what happened to him, only then is he able to move on. In The Village, the entire town was created by those who had been dealt terrible circumstances and hid from the world. Split – Casey finds strength from the terrible abuse she’s been through to help her survive through her current awful situation. Kevin is the way he is because of the significant loss he feels.
And while Shyamalan shares this message through horror and drama, it never takes away the underlying story of strength, even when we’re jumping out of our seats.
The Lady in the Water is just one more example of Shyamalan’s incredible story telling. But it doesn’t get the credit it deserves because it’s a very unique movie that doesn’t really fit in a genre. It’s a little bit fantasy, a little bit horror, a little bit comedy, a little bit drama. But most importantly it’s a beautifully told story.
Cleveland Heep, played by Paul Giamatti, is a man hiding from the world. His family was murdered in a home invasion, and so Cleveland has hidden away to feel safe. He used to be a doctor and now he’s a superintendent of an apartment building filled with unique tenants. For the past few nights he has heard splashing in the pool, even though there’s no swimming after 7pm. One night he captures the culprit but quickly realizes it’s not what he thinks. He finds a naked woman, named Story (Bryce Dallas Howard) who calls herself a Narf. She’s a water nymph that has come from her world and been attacked by a Scrunt. A Scrunt is a grass covered hyena-like creature that’s only goal is to stop Story from returning to her world.
As Cleveland asks around, he hears a bedtime story that matches Story’s exactly. It’s then he realizes that he must help Story escape back to her own land. The tenants gather together, finding inner powers they never knew they had, to help this water nymph.
What’s so beautiful about this movie is the simple fact that a group of unique strangers can so quickly band together and help each other to become what they were meant to be. It’s something we see in our world all the time. Strangers coming together to complete a goal, usually in times of trouble.
Each character is struggling with their own inner demons. Showing us that we truly never know how great the person beside us can be. People wear their grief on their sleeves, and some bury it deep. When we actually take a minute to talk to our neighbors, our coworkers, strangers on the street – we learn that each person carries with them a completely unique story that shapes every bit of them.
And no one shows that better than Shyamalan and his characters. In The Lady in the Water, Shyamalan plays a character named Vick. He’s a writer who is struggling to finish his book. When Story arrives, she tells Vick his future. His words will one day inspire a young boy who will grow up to lead the world with Vick’s words. When Vick realizes that his words will only be uncovered after he has died, he faces the biggest sacrifice of selflessness. It plays such a small role in the movie but is such a powerful moment.
What I think is most important from all of Shyamalan’s movies, is the morals we take with us. And I think that this is why his films can be so polarizing to the horror community. They cause you to think, to reflect, to hurt. But they also have great jump scares and creepy imagery. But it’s why I’ve always supported him since day one. I have constantly spoken support for Signs and for The Village. Urging people to look deeper at this flicks. And now I’m here to preach The Lady in the Water too.
The movie is a Shyamalan flick through and through. From the beautiful imagery, to the dazzling score that hits you deep in your heart, to the incredibly thought out script, to the perfectly timed humor. The Lady in the Water has all of that. But it lacks the horror side compared to the rest. There are no real jump scares, no ghosts, no aliens. It’s more fantastical with woodland-like creatures and water nymphs. But the horror is there – the Scrunt lurks in the grass, ready to attack at any moment. And the idea that Story may not be able to get back home, or that Cleveland may never accept what happened to his family. The horrors in this story are more mental. It’s a warning of what can happen if we don’t spend time reflecting on ourselves and on others.
The cast is perfectly picked for their roles, each scene is handled exactly how it’s supposed to be behind the camera, and Shyamalan allows each actor to really shine. But yet this movie is always overlooked. And most consider this film the reason Shyamalan disappeared for awhile.
I read a lot about people claiming there’s no good horror movies for kids anymore, that everything is either too childish or too scary. There’s a reason the new Goosebumps film did so well at the box office, and that people are excited for The House With a Clock in its Walls. So here’s my pitch: reconsider The Lady in the Water as a scary bedtime story for kids. It would play perfectly with young children who are interested in horror. For them, certain elements of this flick would be quite scary. But ultimately, they’re learning valuable lessons for their future. Which is what a good kids horror film does, at least the ones from my youth did.
So please give The Lady in the Water a second chance, and allow yourself to fall in love with these characters and this story.