TSG Entertainment/Double Dare You Productions/Fox Searchlight Pictures
Directed by Guillermo del Toro
Produced by Guillermo del Toro/J. Miles Dale
Screenplay by Guillermo del Toro/Vanessa Taylor
Story by Guillermo del Toro
So we’re out shopping, Patricia and I. Not really for anything special, mind you. More to get out of the house than anything else. And during the course of our shopping she casually mentions that she wants to see the movies nominated for Best Picture Academy Awards before the award ceremony in March.. Since I’m never adverse to going to see a movie I agree and send our trusty vehicle speeding in the direction of Our Favorite Theater.
As usual, she goes in to get the tickets while I park the car. I have no idea what we’re going to see until I get inside and Patricia informs me that we’re going to see THE SHAPE OF WATER. Now, I have no problem with this as I’ve been a major fan of Guillermo del Toro ever since seeing “Blade II” back in 2002. And I’ve seen every one of his movies ever since then (have you seen “Crimson Peak”? It, along with “Sleepy Hollow” is the best Hammer horror movie not made by Hammer) so I know what to expect. She has never seen a Guillermo del Toro movie so I figure that on one level it’ll be interesting to see her reaction if nothing else. We get our soda & popcorn (the soda was free thanks to me being a card-carrying Regal Crown Club member) take our seats and settle in.
Two hours later we exit the theater and I ask Patricia what she thought of the movie. “Well, I have to say that it was certainly different.” The woman excels at understatement, I must say. Different is most certainly the word to describe THE SHAPE OF WATER which is a love story between a mute woman and an amphibious man who looks like he’s a member of the same family that spawned The Creature From The Black Lagoon and Abe Sapien.
Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins) has been mute since she was a child. She communicates quite well by sign language with her best friend and next-door neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins) an advertising artist struggling with demons of his own involving alcohol and sexuality. She works as a janitor in a sprawling, secret government laboratory somewhere in Baltimore during the 1960s where her co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer) acts as her interpreter. The two women have a pretty good relationship. They work well together as Zelda loves to talk and because of her muteness, Elisa is a natural listener.
Elisa’s life abruptly changes with the arrival of Strickland (Michael Shannon) who apparently works for some shadowy government agency and his latest assignment; an amphibious humanoid he found somewhere in a South American river and has brought to this lab to be examined and determine how best he can be exploited for the benefit of the U.S.A. Dr. Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg) is assigned to assist Strickland in this. Hoffstetler is delighted not only because he’s a dedicated scientist. He’s also a Soviet spy and his agenda is to figure out how to use the creature to further Soviet interests. Elisa is horrified by the brutal torture Strickland inflicts on the creature which demonstrates intelligence, proving that it’s not just a dumb animal as Strickland insists. It is worth noting that in a couple of truly disturbing scenes we are clued in that Strickland is in serious need of professional counseling as clearly some of his fuses have shorted out.
Elisa establishes a touching relationship with the amphibian through hard-boiled eggs and swing music. Upon learning that Strickland intends to have the amphibian dissected, she embarks on a desperate plan to smuggle the amphibian out of the lab and keep him in her bathtub until a nearby canal opens up, providing access to the open sea. Elisa recruits Zelda and Giles into her audacious scheme and against all odds, it succeeds. But then the real danger begins as Strickland, who wasn’t rolling on all four wheels to begins with becomes increasingly more deranged. Hoffstetler is ordered by his Soviet masters to kill the amphibian and Elisa falls in love with the amphibian and he with her. And it could be that love that is more dangerous than anything else.
THE SHAPE OF WATER is one of those movies that you shouldn’t go to see if you demand a fight scene or explosion every five minutes. It’s a dark fairy tale with moments of truly brutal and frightening violence. But there is also friendship, love and long, lingering scenes of beauty here as well. I’ve always loved del Toro’s visual style with its attention to detail. This is a movie that’s full of life, sound and movement and it’s gorgeous to look at. The cinematography is nothing less than amazing. This is a movie that’s great just to look at It’s also a movie that takes it time and will not rush to its conclusion as we need to get to know and understand these characters.
The performances are excellent with Doug Jones taking the MVP award. He played Abe Sapien in the “Hellboy” movies so he knows how to perform as this type of character, using his body language to communicate just as well as if were speaking. Sally Hawkins does an excellent job of playing the mute Elisa. Sometimes we’re told what she is saying via subtitles, sometimes Giles or Zelda translates for us and sometimes it’s left up to us to figure out what she’s saying. But she’s always interesting to watch. I have to admit that I am disappointed with Octavia Spencer’s role. Not that she doesn’t play it well but it’s a role that quite honestly could have been played by anybody. Maybe I’m cynical and read too much into stuff like this but I can’t shake the feeling that the main reason Octavia Spencer was cast was because somebody at the studio insisted that there be a black face somewhere in the movie in a prominent role. And as for Michael Shannon…well, when is Michael Shannon not good? I like how he slowly builds on Strickland’s increasing madness, not being overt or over-the-top with it but letting us know that bit by bit, this guy’s cookies are crumbling.
Taken simply as entertainment THE SHAPE OF WATER is well worth your time. Especially if you’re a fan of Guillermo del Toro, Michael Shannon or Octavia Spencer. While I wouldn’t say this is his best film (I would give that title to either “Hellboy” or “Pan’s Labyrinth”) this is a superb work on all levels and if you want to see a love story that is definitely offbeat, look no further.