M. Night Shyamalan went for a meta approach to his fantasy film. The movie strives to deliver twists from the previous film but it fails on several accounts and ends up being rather dull. Cleveland Heep (Paul Giamatti) is the handyman around an apartment complex fixing broken sinks and killing pests. He has a tragic past that he doesn't like to tell the residents about. When a woman named Story (Bryce Dallas Howard) appears in the pool, she tells Cleveland extraordinary things that lead to a fantastical adventure.
Hunting the lady in the water is the Scrunt, a grass-covered wolf. There are lots of rules and mythology brought into the movie but none of it comes to very much and the characters are almost as confused as I was watching it. The movie takes its time to introduce each resident living in the apartment complex including crossword puzzle solver Mr. Dury (Jeffrey Wright), movie critic Harry Farber (Bob Balaban), and the young college student Young-Soon Choi (Cindy Cheung) whose mother knows of a fairy tale and serves as an expositional tool.
One of the most eye-rolling parts of the film is that Shyamalan cast himself as a writer whose work would one day change the world. His wife Anna (Sarita Choudhury) helps Cleveland take car of Story after one bad attack from the Scrunt. The movie also takes shots at film critics by having Harry Farber be especially cruel and receive a violent ending. The plot moves forward with Cleveland trying to figure out who are the right people to recruit to fulfill the fairytale prophecy.
The special effects improved somewhat and don't look terrible. Even the directing is pretty decent if only the story weren't so convoluted and self-serving. The film is pretty slow and boring though it tries to add horror elements. It is essentially a children's story and turns away from the violence and frightening images that populated Shyamalan previous work. The movie also turned out to be a box office bomb and considered by many as one of the worst films of the year.
The Village kicked off the decline and I would like to think that Lady in the Water was the low point of Shyamalan's movie-making, but it did not improve from here. His large cameo could have been from not being able to cast himself in The Village. This movie felt like a passion project that went horribly wrong and the payoff was exceptionally disappointing. I remember not being very excited for this film and hearing bad things so I didn't see it until it came out on video.