M. Night Shyamalan's career has been moments of great praise, such as his Academy Award nominations for "The Sixth Sense," and moments of intense criticism, such as was he case with "The Happening" and "After Earth." Another one of Shyamalan's greatest career flops was the 2006 six film, Lady in the Water, often viewed as a disaster for its lack of character development, origin as a bedtime story, significant role for its director, and open criticism of the critic profession.
"Lady in the Water" was developed from a bedtime story Shyamalan told his children about a race of sea nymphs (known as narfs) which are sent to land in order to bring an awakening in the human race. These narfs are required to be seen by a specific (but unknown) person in order to help them lead this awakening. However, the narfs need to avoid wolf-like creatures with grass on their backs that attempt to kill them before they accomplish their mission. After the narfs accomplish this mission, they are not to be attacked by these creatures. If they choose to attack, they risk being destroyed by monkey-like tree creatures known as Tartutic (a pair of three known by a single name). However, if this narf happens to be a destined leader, known as the madam narf, the wolf creatures are likely to attack regardless of their fear of the Tartutic. Futhurmore, these narfs can be aided by a set of humans with specific talents unknown to them. Shyamlan took this story and placed it in an apartment development where a man recovering from the murder of his family must help a madam narf return to here world. This is where the first problem with "Lady in the Water" resides. The story is far too complicated. This leads to a significant amount of the film having to be devoted to explaining the lengthy bedtime story and the many rules and conditions that make it up. The time this takes up could have been used to do other things such as character development or expanding on the subplot of the main character's recovery from his families murder.
One of the things that received the most negative criticism for the film was Shymalan's role. Normally, M. Night Shymalan will at most take a small cameo in his films. His role in "Lady in the Water" is that of a supporting character. This isn't the whole problem though. Shymalan's character is that of a writer and social critic that the narf must help in creating his literary masterpiece destined to be a inspiration of a future President of the United States. Critics viewed this as very self-indulgent. Not only did Shymalan give himself a large role for a non-actor director, he gave himself the role of a visionary destined to shape the world.
On top of this, M. Night Shymalan all but wrote negative reviews for his film himself when he created an incredibly arrogant and unlikable character in the film, that also happens to be a film critic. The main character asks this film critic for help in determining who may be the people destined to help the narf return to her world. The advice the critic gives him (intended merely in a literary sense) ends up leading the main character to thinking the wrong people were the narf's helpers which causes the narf to be severely injured. At one point, one character says that the critic was arrogant for trying to determine the destiny of people through his advice. In fairness, the critic never does this, the main character does this, the critic just answers a literary question. In this end, the critic dies after positing that a film with no sex, violence, or profanity would let a character like him live.
While "Lady in the Water" is not the worst film in the world, and it even managed to make it unto the Cahiers du cinéma's top ten list, it's rejection of traditional story conventions and attack on the concept of the film critic, destined it to be a failure. I'm sure M. Night Shymalan expected this criticism though. He knew very well what he was doing. "Lady in the Water" is in a lot of ways, is an open taunting of the critic and those who would question a director casting himself as a visionary. Through this, it almost becomes intriguing and exciting despite its flaws. M. Night Shylaman did was many filmmakers have wanted to do. Unfortunately, he didn't get away with it.