Of Guillermo Del Toro, I will say this: he is a maker of *films*. He doesn’t just make movies, he always has an eye to doing something artistic, meaningful, and unique. He has what those of us in the writing business would call a “voice.”
The Shape of Water didn’t hit the highs it was reaching towards…but I did enjoy it nonetheless, and it is a movie I would recommend others go see. If you’re a sucker for a love story, if you’re a bit soft and melty in the middle, I think you’ll enjoy this movie. Film 😛
Elisa is a mute, isolated woman who works as a cleaning lady in a hidden, high-security government laboratory in 1962 Baltimore. Her life changes forever when she discovers the lab’s classified secret — a mysterious, scaled creature from South America that lives in a water tank. As Elisa develops a unique bond with her new friend, she soon learns that its fate and very survival lies in the hands of a hostile government agent and a marine biologist.
The acting was top notch. Michael Shannon is so much freaking fun, and so perfectly suited for the period this movie takes place in, which is the early 1950s. Liz and I were first introduced to Shannon in Boardwalk Empire, and he was playing a very similar character here, even down to the religious zealot overtones. Interestingly enough, he’s joined in the cast by another Boardwalk alum, Michael Stuhlbarg (Arnold Rothstein for any other Boardwalk-watchers out there), who was likewise freaking fantastic. Sally Hawkins and Octavia Spencer are wonderful together–in fact, I wish we’d been able to spend more time with the two of them…Spencer’s character is sidelined for much of Act’s 3 and 4–and Doug Jones (the tall guy from Star Trek Discovery, not the politician) is fantastic, as per usual, in the monster suit.
I was so, soooooo in on the premise for this movie. Holy shit, was I in: a pair of janitors at a top secret government facility befriend a “monster” the men-in-black want to do horrible things to, and plan a heist to get him out. IN. ON. THAT. Love the era its set in, the “golden age” of monsters and mutants, the late 1950s (is…blurb says 1962, so on the cusp – definitely pre-60s revolution). I even kind of loved that Del Torro set it in a non-descript, never-specified town on the coast. Mr. Del Torro, if you’re listening, please PLEASE do a Bioshock movie some day. Sincerely, everyone.
That brings me to the look of this film, which from the very, very first shot is absolutely gorgeous, if not entirely original, as we’ll discuss in the next section. Del Torro knows how to compose a shot, and boy does he know his color palettes. It actually made me think of his very early work on Mimic, which had similar set designs, at least in the portions of this film that took place in the “city.”
Oh! And how can I not mention my favorite performance of the film, from Richard Jenkins as a lonely gay man who pines for companionship, and bemoans the gravity of age and its inevitable effects on the body. His scenes with our heroine were just wonderful.
Sex was a very, very interesting topic in this film, too, and established right away. I felt like Del Torro did a wonderful job depicting the various ways in which sexuality can manifest itself: solitary, uncomfortable, blissful, funny…it’s all in there.
The music was great.
The creature effects were wonderful.
And I love the IDEA of “falling in love with the monster”…
WHAT DIDN’T WORK:
Unfortunately, at least for me, the love story never landed…and boy, that *IS* this fllm. The number one driving force in this movie, the one thing that the audience needs to buy into is the love story, and neither Liz nor myself ever found ourselves drawn in on it. I wanted to buy in, I could see all the charming elements there vying for my attention, but at the end of the day, I felt like buying the love story was entirely taken for granted by the filmmakers. They never spent the time to actually earn it. A pair of scenes of our protagonist feeding the “Asset,” as he’s called, and then putting him into mortal danger the next scene are not enough. They’re just not enough.
I also felt like the themes of lonliness were fuzzy and ill-portrayed. Yes, the characters complained about their lonliness, but we never really SAW it. They always had each other, and seemed to geuinely enjoy the company they had…I never really saw anything that showed me just how broken or desperate they were…which was a fatal flaw for me in the main character and the love story: I can’t tell you after watching this movie what the hole was in Sally Hawkins that Doug Jones’ monster filled for her.
There were also several themes in this movie that were bludgeoned instead of examined with nuance or even under *compelling* circumstances. Offer me commentary on race and sexuality, sure…but do it through the mirror of a really compelling scene. Don’t just pepper in a few lines of dialogue, or offer me something completely/otherwise extraneous to the plot. There’s one scene in particular, well, no, two, actually…that are otherwise completely unnecessary except to show a prejudice or cruelty of some kind. They have absolutely no impact on the plot, or even a main character. There’s been a lot written lately on the use of sexual violence simply to serve a villain’s evil-ness…and this movie comes dangerously close to crossing that line. And that’s not the only scene that could be thrown away in this film as random or redundant.
As such…the movie had pacing issues. It’s probably 30 minutes too long…maybe less…but still. Both the Ho and I found outselves checking our watches around the 1:20 mark, and there were still 40 minutes left. The pace is so steady and deliberate that the heist element of the plot never really pays off, nor does the climax that follows…the showdown of sorts. It’s wrapped up in this unwavering half-funny/half-serious charm…which, don’t get me wrong, IS charming…but not compelling. I never ever found myself leaning forward for this movie. It was comfortably in the back of my couch coushion from beginning to end.
Liz made an interesting observation about the style of the movie, and I think it’s a super valid critique: this movie suffered from Amelie pastiche syndrome. It was so, soooooo similar to that truly classic movie, it was hard to just see this movie for itself; from Elisa’s look, her characterization, the characters they surrounded her with, the whimsilcal tone to the storytelling, and especially the way the film LOOKED, with all its greens. It all screamed Amelie…and in a bit of a pretender fashion.
My final gripe is with the screenplay, which AGAIN fell into the trap all too often of telling me why things were important rather than SHOWING me why they were important. If you just tell me something, and then I never actually SEE it come to fruition, guys…I don’t believe you. You’re lying to me. Certainly nowhere near as much as the last few blockbuster movies I’ve seen, this it true, but enough for me to be gritting my teeth in frustration.
Again, at the end of the day: I *do* recommend watching the film if you like a love story. I’d bet most of you will like it a bit more than I did, and that’s okay. Early returns on this one are favorable, and it’s already getting awards attention. I have a feeling at the end of the day, however, that while this film will get some love right now, it’s going up onto the “above average” shelf in history. It’s one of Del Torro’s better films, certainly…but it’s not one of his best.
7/10 – recommended