Check Your Swimming Pool, There May Be a ‘Lady in the Water’

What could be creepier than bedtime story creatures coming to life? How about having to protect these creatures from evil bedtime story villains?

This becomes Cleveland Heep’s burden in M. Night Shyamalan’s newest film “Lady in the Water.” Since the writer/director’s 1999 breakthrough film “The Sixth Sense,” Shyamalan has fascinated movie goers with his twisted plots and unpredictable characters.

In “Lady in the Water” the audience is once again exposed to Shyamalan’s trademark tricks and treats.

Life is going swimmingly for apartment superintendent Heep (Paul Giamatti) until he discovers a mythical creature called a narf (Bryce Dallas Howard) hanging out in the apartment complex’s swimming pool. The narf (who goes by “Story”) tells Heep that she comes from the “Blue World” and needs his help in returning.

Sound simple? Hardly. Hiding around the apartment complex are vicious dog-like creatures called scrunts who would enjoy nothing more than sinking their teeth into some narf.

Heep eventually turns to other tenants (who believe his crazy story without hesitation) in the building to help get Story home, all of whom become powerfully linked to her.

Some of the most memorable parts of “Lady in the Water” involve the actors’ performances. Giamatti, well-known for his roles in “Sideways” and “Cinderella Man,” creates another complex, intriguing character in the speech-impaired Heep who chooses to hide from his tragic past. His monologue toward the end becomes a notable part for both his character and the film.

Howard, Shyamalan’s leading lady from “The Village,” doesn’t give a jaw-dropping, “oh gosh wow!” performance as Story, but she does a very good job at sitting around Heep’s apartment wearing one of his shirts.

This, however, can be partly attributed to the fact that Shyamalan wrote the character to be frightened and sickly after repeated attacks from the scrunts.

Besides Giamatti and Howard, Jeffrey Wright (“Angels in America”) and Bob Balaban (“Capote”) give strong performances heading the group of apartment tenants.

Returning to the scrunts, if movie goers want to see impressive special effects, the red-eyed, grassy-haired dogs offer a nice touch to the film’s cinematography.

There’s also a group of fantastic monkeys living in the trees around the complex that are designed to sic themselves on any nasty scrunts that cross their paths.

Aw, the joys of computer animation.

Perhaps the most distinctive flaw in “Lady in the Water” is Shyamalan’s decision to cast himself as a wannabe writer inhabiting the apartment complex. Shyamalan always makes appearances in his films, much like the legendary director Alfred Hitchcock, but this time he goes a little too far.

Unlike Hitchcock, who limited his screen time to walk-on and cameo appearances, Shyamalan decided to give himself one of the most crucial roles in the whole movie.

Undeniably, his acting skills are limited, but it’s his enormous ego present in this situation that turns an otherwise likeable character into an irritating blemish.

Final verdict: “Lady in the Water” is an entertaining flick providing suspense, drama, comedy, and a Bob Dylan-clad soundtrack.

Like Shyamalan’s previous spawns, it’s never exactly what it’s expected to be, but that’s part of the fun.