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M. Night Shyamalan Returns with a 'Lady'

(Soundbite of film The Sixth Sense)

Mr. HALEY JOEL OSMET (Actor): (As character): I see dead people.


With that line in The Sixth Sense, a star was born. Not a star in front of the camera, but behind it: writer-director M. Night Shyamalan.

The Sixth Sense grossed about $700 million worldwide. He has since made other high-grossing movies, Signs and The Village, that feature his eerie twist on the supernatural and his signature surprise endings.

And opening tonight, Shyamalan's Lady in the Water, starring Paul Giamatti.

(Soundbite of film Lady in the Water)

Mr. PAUL GIAMATTI (Actor): (As Cleveland Heep): You're an expert on plots, right? You know who's going to do what in a book or a movie, even at the beginning, yes?

MONTAGNE: Scott Foundas is film critic and editor for the LA Weekly, and he came into our studios here at NPR West to chat about the filmmaker.

Mr. SCOTT FOUNDAS (LA Weekly): Good morning.

MONTAGNE: This film, The Lady in the Water, is billed as a bedtime story.

Mr. FOUNDAS: Well, it's actually, according to Shyamalan, based on a story that he made up for his two young children as a bedtime story. Basically what sets this whole ting in motion is that a sea nymph, or in M. Night Shyamalanese, a narf, appears in the swimming pool of this apartment building. And the building superintendent, a man named Cleveland Heep, played by Paul Giamatti, sort of has to figure out why she's there and how they can help her get back to her world.

MONTAGNE: M. Night Shyamalan has really become a Hollywood brand name. Talk to us about what makes his style so distinctive.

Mr. FOUNDAS: Well I think at this point, when M. Night Shyamalan makes a film it is kind of a cultural event, because he is a brand name. He's probably, outside of Steven Spielberg and Woody Allen, one of the few filmmakers that my mother would know just by his name alone.

Some have called him the next Spielberg. He is kind of the modern master of what's known as the O. Henry story, where you have one set of expectations that are then kind of turned on their head at a certain point, and you sort of have to relearn the logic of the story all over again.

MONTAGNE: And interestingly, what he did in the Sixth Sense created an idea of what can happen in a film that now it would seem he's even up against. Mr. FOUNDAS: Well, in a way I think he can't shake it. It's sort of his cross to bear. He used to say in interviews that he wasn't going to make any more supernatural films, or he was going to take a break from it. He was going to do something different, a romantic comedy. Now he never says that in interviews. Now he has become M. Night Shyamalan, the proprietor of the twist ending, of the supernatural story set in a realistic setting, and to me one of the greatest disappointments of The Lady in the Water isn't that it's overly reliant on exposition or that the central metaphor is kind of inscrutable. It's that so many of the ideas that are in the film are things that he's done before.

MONTAGNE: Scott, thanks for coming in.

Mr. FOUNDAS: My pleasure.

MONTAGNE: Scott Foundas is film editor for LA Weekly. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.