Lady in the Water is a 2006 American dark fantasy film written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan and starring Paul Giamatti and Bryce Dallas Howard. The film's plot concerns the superintendent of a Philadelphia apartment complex who discovers a young woman in the swimming pool. Gradually, he and his neighbors learn that she is a water nymph (or Narf) whose life is in danger from a vicious, wolf-like, mystical creature called a Scrunt that tries to keep her from returning to her watery "blue world".
This is Shyamalan's first movie in which he has played a significant role as one of the supporting actors. The film received a negative response from critics; with criticism revolving around the film's lack of consistency, characterisation, and egotistical moves (Shyamalan casting himself as a messianic writer and the film critic as a one dimensional jerk), along with it being considered a comedy and not a drama. The film was also a financial disappointment grossing merely $72 million against a $70 million production budget.
One evening, Cleveland Heep, who became the superintendent of a Philadelphia apartment complex after his family was murdered, discovers Story, a naiad-like character (called a Narf) from the Blue World, in his building's pool, immediately rescuing her from an attack by a "Scrunt", a grass-covered wolf-like creature that lies flat.
Story is here to find the Author, a specific writer whose book will better humanity's future. After questioning residents Farber, Bell, Dury, and five nameless smokers, Brown discovers the author, Vick Ran, who is writing The Cookbook, containing views and ideas so significant they will inspire a future President, a great Midwestern orator, to greatly change the world for the better. Vick meeting Story eliminates his fear and sharpens his inner voice, but he learns he will be assassinated because of the controversial nature of his ideas.
The Tartutic, an invincible simian trio that serve as the Blue World's peacekeepers, have forbidden Story from being attacked while returning home. The Scrunt nonetheless does just that because Story is destined to be a great leader as well. To return safely, she will now need the help of a Symbolist, a Guardian, a Guild and a Healer. Story believes Heep to be her Guardian; Heep asks Farber, a West Coast émigré turned film critic, to help him figure out the others' identities. Working off movie tropes, Farber misadvises Heep, leading him to a flawed conclusion that Dury is the Symbolist, the smokers are the Guild, and Bell is the Healer.
Heep asks Story how to "practice" for the confrontation but nearly dies in the process, convincing him he's not the Guardian. The next night, Farber's bad advice leads to their plan's immediate failure. In the confusion, Farber is killed and Story is mortally wounded by the Scrunt. Dury suddenly realizes his son Joey is the Symbolist. Interpreting the information on cereal boxes, Joey deduces the true Guild is composed of seven sisters, that two new men must be present, and that the Healer is male, soon revealed to be Heep. He goes about healing Story by "bringing forth [his] energy" (his repressed grief). Story's departure starts again, but the Scrunt attacks; it is stopped by the gaze of Reggie, a lopsidedly muscled tenant who is the true Guardian. Reggie's gaze, capable of compelling the Scrunt to slowly retreat, is distracted by the cry of the Great Eatlon, a giant eagle who will ferry Story home. When Reggie breaks eye contact, the Scrunt leaps, but the Tartutic arrive and drag it away. Heep thanks Story for saving his life as she hugs him goodbye. The Great Eatlon lands, enfolds Story in one of its wings, and takes flight. The film ends as each tenant watches as she is ferried into the storm.
- Paul Giamatti as Cleveland Heep
- Bryce Dallas Howard as Story
- Bob Balaban as Harry Farber
- Jeffrey Wright as Mr. Dury
- Sarita Choudhury as Anna Ran
- Cindy Cheung as Young-Soon Choi
- M. Night Shyamalan as Vick Ran
- Freddy Rodriguez as Reggie
- Bill Irwin as Mr. Leeds
- Jared Harris as Goatee Smoker
- Mary Beth Hurt as Mrs. Bell
- Noah Gray-Cabey as Joey Dury
- Tovah Feldshuh as Mrs. Bubchik
- Joseph D. Reitman as Long Haired Smoker
- Grant Monohon as Emaciated Smoker
- John Boyd as One-Eyebrow Smoker
- Ethan Cohn as Glasses Smoker
- Kevin Frank as Silvertide Band Member
- June Kyoko Lu as Mrs. Choi
- Jeremy Howard as Tartutic #1
- Brian Steele as Tartutic #2
- Kurt Carley as Tartutic #3
- Doug Jones as Tartutic #4
- David Ogden Stiers as Narrator
The film was originally planned to be produced by Touchstone Pictures—just as Shyamalan's previous four films were released by Walt Disney Studios—but ultimately no deal was reached. Disney executive Nina Jacobson had spoken with Shyamalan about the film's storyline, the idea for which studio chairman Dick Cook didn't understand. Shyamalan was reportedly angry about the response, claiming that Disney "no longer valued individualism". Despite the fact that Disney was willing to completely fund the film regardless, Shyamalan rejected their offer and eventually presented the project to Warner Bros., who agreed to finance the film. The events that led to the making of the film were featured in a book, The Man Who Heard Voices, by Michael Bamberger.
Shyamalan established a production facility at the Jacobson Logistics warehouse site in nearby Levittown, Pennsylvania, where sets for the apartment complex and a half-city block of row houses were built. Occasional footage was shot inside the overflow area of the warehouse. Most of the filming was completed after work hours.