Connor’s review published on Letterboxd:
Lady in the Water is unfairly maligned and treated like an all-time bad movie. I think people who spit venom at this movie should redirect their attention towards unoriginal movies that are lazy and purely made for commercial purposes. M. Night Shyamalan may not have the best impulses as a filmmaker but I will always take an auteristic 'misfire' than a run-of-the-mill commercial 'success' if that makes sense. Lady in the Water is a film that kind of defies easy explanation. Is this a family film? A thriller? A little of bit of both? Misguided? I would say so. I think this unsure approach is part of the film's failings. It also plays everything totally straight but is like so randomly meta at times.
First of all, I have to say I really did like Paul Giamatti in the lead role. He's great and at times gives the movie humor and levity when it threatens to completely fly off the rails. In a larger-than-life, bombastic movie, Shyamalan did himself a favor by casting one of the best everyman's working in Hollywood. Even though the film is 'fantastical', I really did enjoy the characters populating this film. You rarely see diversity in Hollywood movies and if you do it's incredibly forced. I didn't feel that here. It works very well and the movie is better for it. Again, when the movie has a misstep the characters always kept me on board.
I really do love the concept of a bedtime story parable for the modern world. People who were fans of M. Night were probably expecting another adult thriller within the horror genre. However, this jump to more family-friendly and more fantastical storytelling isn't totally a lost cause. I actually celebrate it. The film has some interesting (if a tad absurd) mythology it gives it's audience to chew on. I quite like it's humanistic approach to its politics and aggressively uncynical worldview. It is however, let down by the most detached direction by it's busy director.
Visually, this is probably the most uninteresting thing M. Night has done to this point. I've always loved the way he moves the camera and how he uses visual language to tell his stories. I was very surprised to see that this film is littered with poor composition, amateurish staging and blocking, and some truly jarring out-out-focus frames where you’re confused as to what you should be looking at. As a writer/director on this project, he unfortunately prioritizes exposition over visuals, which is not something to this point that he's been known for. Lady in the Water had potential for much better visual storytelling but it instead gives us a bland color palette and no truly memorable designs. Movies are at their best when they show rather than tell and this movie is tell, tell, tell.
M. Night Shyamalan's Lady in the Water is not a complete misfire like it's reputation would suggest. M Night is one of the few original filmmakers who prefers his own ideas as opposed to established audience friendly content. He takes risks and this film is no different. Lady is the Water has a lot of problems but it does not have a shortage of interesting ideas. Unfortunately a lot of it is rather undercooked and drowned by some poor exposition-laden writing and flat, lifeless direction.
Unpopular opinion: I really liked M. Night's performance in this. Yes, it's an egotistical move to give himself that role (no spoilers) but his performance is ultimately really good. If we didn't know he was the director I don't think anybody would be picking on it the way they do.
Side note: I had a hard time rating this. 2.5 is too low but 3 is too high. This is thisclose to being a 3 star movie.