The Shape of Water (2017)
Starring: Sally Hawkins, Octavia Spencer, Michael Shannon, Octavia Spencer, Michael Stuhlbarg, Doug Lones
Directed by: Guillermo del Toro
Written by: Vanessa Taylor, Guillermo del Toro
Rating: R Running Time: 2 hr 3 min.
My 2 Cents:
At a top-secret American research facility in the 1960s, a mute cleaning lady forms a unique relationship with an amphibious creature that is being held in captivity.
The Shape of Water is a beautiful film. Each frame is beautifully lit and staged, utilizing a rich color palette and design aesthetic. The inner workings of Guillermo del Toro’s creative mind are lovingly assembled here. This is a film that takes the classic Monster of the Week trope and gives it an art house makeover. It’s Swamp Thing meets E.T., or Swamp Thing meets Romeo and Juliet, or maybe, Swamp Thing meets Pretty Woman. I guess what I’m saying is, it’s hard to characterize.
With the oppressive-to-minorities 1960s American back drop, I found the ‘messaging’ in this film a touch on the nose. Minorities are good—the establishment led by Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon), the embodiment of insecure alpha white maleness—bad. The film also, for me at least, doesn’t spend nearly enough time establishing the relationship between Elisa (Sally Hawkins) and the Amphibian Man (Doug Jones) in his skillfully made fish suit. An important component in this story, which as underdeveloped as it was, left me somewhat disengaged throughout the film.
Performances all round are good, with Sally Hawkins and Richard Jenkins being the film’s MVPs for me. I loved this film on a technical level; the lighting, costumes, and sets are all astounding. I never once, however, found myself moved by the highs and lows that are typically explored in a movie like this. This is a love story that struggles to build chemistry between its lovers.
Being that The Shape of Water is a girl-meets-fish-boy story, that’s hardly surprising. Then you have to factor in the communication difficulties between a mute girl, and a non-English speaking creature from the Black Lagoon. In the end, their relationship was more an allegory for freedom of expression and love, than something a regular movie going audience can relate to and care about.
The Shape of Water was made by people who clearly love the movies. It’ll also be a great clip source for future montages celebrating film played at the Oscars. The incredible attention to the visual details, as well as the massive challenges built into the story, seem to stunt the emotional impact of the film. This is a project to be respected and admired for sure, but probably not loved by the masses.