Lady in the Water
So when Shyamalan creates a fairy tale film that his children can watch, based on a fairy tale he wrote for them. This isn't Sixth Sense or Unbreakable, and like The Village it takes an even stronger step away from what the media define as a Shyamalan film.
The Lady in the Water is not about the twist, and that's not something you really find out until the film is finished. In a way, and most of this is to do with the media and marketing, the early scenes point towards some big twist and it is never delivered, well you could say that it is, and the twist is the non-delivery of one.
Anyway, let's drop the twist rubbish and look at the film in its entirety and see, now that time and the general press have let go of the film, if it is any good. I never watched it when it originally came out so I was excited to see the film on Blu-ray.
Lady in the Water is a story about a man who has lost all hope working as a building superintendent at a small apartment block. He believes that someone is swimming in the pool at night and one evening catches them. It's a young woman who reveals herself to be a character from what he would believe is a children's fable. She has to journey back to her home beneath the pool but there's a creature outside that is stopping her, that and something she has to do before she leaves. So Cleveland Heap decides to help her and readily lets her into his house and his heart.
The story is a good one, and that was my first surprise from reading the original reviews and comments of the film. Yes, it is a fairy tale, and you have to let go of that "Shyamalan trick ending" expectation, but once you do you find that there's real enjoyment and tension in the film and story.
It provides a real mix between an children's story and an adult one, making the creatures feel more real and menacing, and providing a pretty strong feeling pace and tension, as well as making us believe that the creatures are real. There's a lot of feeling and emotion pushed into these tales, and if the base wasn't so obviously a fairy tale then you could easily mistake it for something more adult. That's one of the beauties of the film, is that it doesn't categorise itself between the two, it merges the two normally very separate groups of films.
There are a couple of moments where the story wasn't so strong, and one of these key things is that all the adults believe so easily. I guess this is because the story does need to move onwards, but there's never really any event for the characters where they suddenly have a change of belief, and that did bother me as I watched.
Another moment in the story that bothered me was the ending itself, it felt a little off kilter and I couldn't understand if it was because I so strongly believed in the final moments that there would be some big, clever twist, or that I just didn't think that the ending felt quite right. It's hard to define and understand exactly what was wrong about it, but it just didn't feel like the story completed properly for me, I don't know, there's just something about it.
The film also has some great creature effects, another reason that the wolf type creature that is trying to stop the lady from returning home seems to real. The filming style and the real world non-CGI effects are fantastic, and the creature really does gather a personality and instills a strong fear in the audience.
It is well shot with some great set design and cinematography, as is always the case with M. Night Shyamalan's films. However there often seems to be some rather unusual framing in some of the shots, and it confused me. It prompted me to check all the settings of my home cinema and ensure that the picture wasn't being upscaled and cropped in anyway, and it wasn't.
At times it does feel as though the film was shot on a much larger format and cut to size for the DVD release, although for the life of me I can't think why this would be the case, other than a cost saving exercise in some way.
Then there are the performances, something which really does give this film a big kick upwards. Paul Giamatti is the lead here and he gives a great performance, suitably restrained and held back by blocked emotions. His frustration and pain is apparent throughout, although he never has to break down and speak about, it's just there in everything he does.
There are other strong performances, and Bryce Dallas Howard leads those. Although she doesn't say much through the film her emotions are conveyed through her eyes and her face, and striking they are too. The other cast is enjoyable and do fit their roles well.
Shyamalan himself stars in the film, something which also had many critics enraged. The thing is, once you get over the fact that it is him, you realise he's not too bad. Yes, he isn't an actor and this is rather noticeable from his performance, particularly since he's among so many strong and great actors, but he doesn't do such a bad job.
He is a bit strained at times with his delivery, but it isn't so bad as to disrupt the film. However I think he could really have done himself a favour if he if he hadn't cast himself in such a major role.
The picture was strong, although it wasn't up to the high quality of Blu-ray I was expecting, but it did provide for some very well shot scenes. There's also some strange framing moments. As I said before I thought that this might be down to resizing of the framing for the DVD, but I'm not sure.
Some scenes simply have characters half off the screen, and some characters who are involved in the scene, or other moments have characters squeezed into the frame from side to side.
The audio on the film is strong and use is made of the rear speakers for atmospheric moments, although there is only the Dolby Digital 5.1 available on the disc, and once again it makes me think that this was an offering for a standard disc that little was done to upgrade to the high definition of Blu-ray.
Multiple featurettes, Deleted scenes, Auditions
I was once again surprised and disappointed to find that there was no commentary from Shyamalan. Of course he probably feels he doesn't need to define the films he makes, or explain them, particularly when critics don't seem to like them, however I think that's not fair to the audience. It's not that I want the film explained or justified, I want to hear about the making of it, about the writing and the filming, and understand why he made decisions to film that way, or light something, etc.
The story featurette is interesting as Shyamalan gives a few readings from his original story and talks about how it grew with his children's night time stories, and shows some illustrations from the book.
There are a few featurettes talking about the film, the story, effects, orchestration and set design. They provide a good insight into the film, and offer some surprises from behind the scenes, and through them we get the director, director of photography and actors talking quite a bit about the film, and there's the feeling that they are very proud of the work.
There are also a couple of montages, one of auditions for the film and another of deleted scenes. The auditions don't show many actors and really focus on a small bit part, so they aren't too interesting, and the deleted scenes aren't that interesting or very relevant either.
I did enjoy the film, not nearly as much as other Shyamalan films, but well enough. The story is strong and told well, and you do feel yourself becoming involved in the characters, particularly through Paul Giamatti's performance.
Shyamalan also manages to inject a great deal of tension in the script and the film, and that keeps you engaged and interested, and I can't deny that there's a little part of me that was wondering if there was a big twist in the film and that was something I couldn't quite escape.
I think that the film has received unfair and rather heavy criticism, however it is very fair to say that the Blu-ray transfer doesn't seem to do it the justice it deserves, or take advantage of the Blu-ray features, and that does harm the review because it is about the Blu-ray release of the film.