Film / Lady in the Water
Time is running out for a happy ending.

M. Night Shyamalan writes, directs, and acts in this self-proclaimed, grown-up "bedtime story" about an apartment building superintendent named Cleveland (Paul Giamatti) who discovers a magical sea-nymph named Story (Bryce Dallas Howard) who's been transported to this world and is living in the building's own swimming pool.

As this bizarre revelation sinks in, Cleveland becomes enraptured by her other-worldly charm. As he shelters her in his apartment, other inhabitants of the building begin falling into place as representations of characters from an Eastern myth in which these mermaids, or "narfs," co-exist unhappily with more beastly and violent characters.

In human reality, the forces of darkness that threaten the heroes of a fairy tale prove to be much more terrifying, and the victory of good over evil is by no means guaranteed. Jeffery Wright, Jared Harris and Mary Beth Hurt co-star, as well as Shyamalan himself, playing the visionary writer Vick.

Lady in the Water contains examples of:

  • Asian Airhead: Young-Soon Choi, the none-too-stellar Korean student.
  • Author Avatar: Vick is a visionary writer played by Shyamalan himself. Tropes Are Not Good as Shyamalan was further mocked for his egotistical casting. The existence of the Straw Critic character doesn't help Shyamalan's case either.
  • Almighty Janitor: Cleveland, to an extent.
  • Bait and Switch: Everyone for Story's team. Cleaveland is the Healer, Reggie is the Guardian, the Guild is the women from the other apartment, and the son of the man thought to be the Interpreter is the real Interpreter .
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Much like Inglourious Basterds is a tribute to the Magnificent Bastard trope, this movie revels in this one. Literally every early background character becomes crucial to the plot later on. Reggie's role was foreshadowed when he talks about how he's doing his "exercise experiments" because he wants to do something special. He's also watching in the background of a lot of crowd scenes... y'know, like a watchman, or a guardian maybe?
  • Color Motif: Similar to The Village, Story's red hair turning blonde symbolizes safety.
  • Creator Cameo: Shyamalan does this in all his films. This is the first time he's a major character. But just what his character will do—namely, inspire a great world leader with his writing—ticked a lot of people off for obvious reasons.
  • Death by Genre Savviness: The critic, whose demise is a thinly-veiled Take That against people who don't like Shyamalan's movies.
  • Fiery Redhead: Averted with Story, who is quite mild-mannered, if not outright timid despite having gorgeous red hair.
  • Fish out of Water: Story, literally, since she's a narf.
  • Foreshadowing: Early in the film, Story learns that Cleaveland was once a doctor. In other words, a Healer.
  • Friend to All Living Things: The identifying mark of the Healer is attracting butterflies.
  • Genre Savvy: A main plot point is the characters discovering that they are in a fairy tale, but they start acting out the wrong roles.
  • Giant Flyer: The Great Eathlon.
  • Innocent Fanservice Girl: Narf's have different ideas about nudity than humans so Story doesn't see the problem with someone seeing her wearing a man's shirt.
  • It's Been Done: The critic character says:
    "There is no originality left in the world, Mr. Heep. That is a sad fact I've come to live with."
  • Lampshade Hanging: The critic points out tropes because that's what he does for a living, in his reviews.
  • Loads and Loads of Characters: Chekhov's Gunman is important and there are a lot of them.
  • Maniac Monkeys: The Tartutic.
  • Meaningful Name: Story has come to "awaken" a story in someone.
  • Meta Twist: In the context of Shyamalan's other films.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Young-Soon Choi. She's introduced with a shot that focuses on her midriff rather than her face and is frequently seen in skimpy outfits.
  • Mysterious Waif: Story is a mysterious otherwordly woman that shows up in the building's pool.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: This was marketed as a horror movie, but the first teaser made it look almost like a mystical romance.
  • No Sense of Personal Space: Story is very close to Cleaveland. The first scene with the Scrunt shows her cuddling up to him beforehand.
  • Not What It Looks Like: Vick's sister assumes Cleveland and Story are up to no good when she and Vick see Story wearing nothing but his shirt.
  • Our Mermaids Are Different: Narfs are sea nymphs that exist to "awaken" people and get carried away by giant eagles.
  • Please Put Some Clothes On: The reason Cleaveland gives Story his shirt in the first place.
  • Power Dyes Your Hair: A magic healing turns Story's ginger hair blonde.
  • Savage Wolves: The Scrunts.
  • Saving the World with Art: The protagonist must save a writer whose work will cause world peace and harmony.
  • Scare Chord: Used here and there to play with the audience, mostly relying on Shyamalan reputation as director of horrors and thrillers.
  • Self-Made Orphan: The Tartutic are described as being so evil that they killed their parents as soon as they were born. (One wonders how the species survives, if they're that uncooperative.)
    • There's only three of them, not a whole species.
  • Shrinking Violet: Story has a timid nature.
  • Straw Critic: The critic exists to give the "no originality" spiel and get killed because he thinks he's Seen It All.
    • Roger Ebert noted in his review that the critic is proven to be right, and that Heep misinterpreted everything.
  • Take That, Critics!: The critic, whose demise is a thinly-veiled Take That against people who don't like Shyamalan's movies. This badly backfired on Shyamalan, for obvious reasons. Mark Kermode pointed out in his review that it was the critics who were championing his films in the first place.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: Once the characters catch onto the fact that they're in a fairy tale, they assume they know the roles they should play. They're wrong.