REVIEW: The Shape of Water

 

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Review: The Shape of Water

Written by Paul Wright

Note: The following review contains some spoilers in the main article and a major spoiler warning for certain sections of the article.

 

The Shape of Water is the latest film from visionary director Guillermo Del Toro. He’s brought us such films as Cronos, The Devil’s Backbone, both Hellboy films, and Pans Labyrinth just to name a few. To call Del Toro a visionary doesn’t do him justice. His films are creative and visual masterpieces. There is no mistaking who is behind the lens in a Guillermo Del Toro movie and The Shape of Water isn’t any different.

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Left: Guillermo Del Toro, Sally Hawkins, Octavia Spencer; Top: Hellboy; Bottom: Pale Man

There are a handful of directors that I give a complete pass to. Meaning I don’t need to know what the movie’s about, or who’s in it, I don’t even need to know the title. If they’re making a movie, I’m seeing it. Directors like Quentin Tarantino, Mathew Vaughn, and Edgar Wright come to mind. For years Del Toro was without question on that list, but his last few films haven’t quite met the standard I expect from Guillermo Del Toro. Though I love the concept and the world building, Pacific Rim wasn’t the knock your socks off sci-if epic I was expecting. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the movie and I’m looking forward to the sequel, but Pacific Rim did disappoint me in multiple key ways. Then we have Crimson Peak, the concept screams Del Toro, a gothic Victorian-era haunted house horror mystery. I just flat out disliked Crimson Peak. What should have been a home run for the director was a big whiff. I absolutely had not given up on Guillermo Del Toro as a filmmaker, but in my opinion, he needed a win.

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Because of this, it was great to hear such positive buzz for this movie. I’m pleased to say that The Shape of Water is exactly what I has hoping for a beautiful modern day fairy tale with gorgeous visuals, memorable characters, compelling performances and and a touching love story. In other words, this is a Guillermo Del Toro film in the best sense of the term.

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Set in the 60’s during the hight of The Cold War, Sally Hawkins plays Elisa Esposito a shy, mute woman who works alongside her fiend Zelda (Octavia Spencer) as members of cleaning staff at a military facility. Elisa leads a simple, quite life. She does her job and comes home to her roommate Giles, played by the great Richard Jenkins. Elisa may be mute, but she can hear perfectly fine and communicates through sign language to the people around her who understand it. Elisa’s life is turned upside down when an high security “asset” is brought into the facility where she works. The U.S. government have captured “something”. The “something” is of course The Creature at the heart of the film. An aquatic human-like creature that was captured somewhere in the Amazon. He looks like Abe Sapien meets The Creature from The Black Lagoon. Almost all of the government higher ups and scientists (with a few key exceptions) view this creature as an animal, a monster and nothing more. Just something they can experiment on to find a way to one up the Soviet Union. They’re especially interested in The Creature’s ability to breath in two distinct environments and how that could help America in The Space Race. I don’t think The Creature is given a name or nickname in the movie. The characters call The Creature things like “It” or “Him”. But this isn’t a a mindless animal, as Elisa will quickly find out.

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After an incident in the room where the Creature is being held, Elisa and Zelda are brought in to clean up. Zelda just wants to do her job and get the hell out of there (A very smart attitude to have in any movie featuring a giant fish man), but Elisa I’d mesmerized by The Creature. When Elisa and the audience fully see The Creature for the first time, we see a powerful, unique, and in some ways very human being. Compared to a similar Del Toro character, Abe Sapien from the Helboy films, this Creatures face and eyes are far more human than you would expect.

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Abe Sapien from Guillermo Del Toro’s excellent Hellboy Films

Because Elisa is mute and thus viewed as “less than”, it’s much easier for her to get into the lab/torture chamber where The Creature’s being held without being noticed. Elisa begins to make daily lunch visits to The Creature and over time these two beings develop a profound bond that goes beyond anything either of them have experienced. Loneliness and the desire to connect with someone else are at the ideas heart of this film.

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As usual in a Guillermo Del Toro film, the creature design is spectacular. Under the astonishing makeup and prosthetics that make The Creature real is Del Toro mainstay Doug Jones .Unsurprisingly he gives an incredible performance in this film. The Creature s both otherworldly and surprisingly human. If there’s been a cool creature created using make-up effects, odds are they were played by Doug Jones. For Del Toro alone he’s played Abe Sapien, The Faun, The Crooked Man, The Angel of Death, and more. He also played The Silver Surfer in the bad, but not unwatchable Fantastic Four: Rise of The Silver Surfer. But the physicality that he brings to this role is completely unique, which is important considering he played Abe Sapien who had definite physical similarities to The Creature in this movie.

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Doug Jones out of Makeup

The idea of loneliness and the desire to connect extends very well into the arc of Richard Jenkins’ character Giles. He’s an older homosexual man in the 1960’s and his arc works as a powerful contrast with the growing connection between Elisa and The Creature. He’s an artist working in the ad industry constantly being shown the door because he’s homosexual. There’s an emotionally powerful scene when he attempts to open up to a man who works at a diner Giles frequents. When the man is disgusted by Giles’ gentle advance on him, the mix of heart break and embarrassment that comes across Richard Jenkins’ face is gut wrenching. This does an excellent job of setting up Giles’ reaction to Elisa and The Creature later in the film.

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Richard Jenkins as Giles

As Elisa and The Creature’s connection grows deeper, she finds out that the government assholes in charge of this project intend to kill and vivisect The Creature. So, Elisa decides to break The Creature out with the help of Giles, Zelda, and a sympathetic scientist working at the base. Now, this is the point in the movie where a lot of interesting major and minor plot and character developments play out. So I’m going to put a big SPOILER WARNING notice here and you can scroll down until you see another big END SPOILERS notice. Here we go…

 

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OK, so once they break The Creature out, they bring it back to Elisa and Giles’ apartment where, even though he can stay out of water for extended periods of time, the keep him in the bathtub. Along with salt and special chemicals given to Elisa by the aforementioned friendly scientist, The Creature can breath in the tub water. They plan to free him in the ocean, when heavy rains will give them a safe spot to let him go, but they have to wait about a week for the rain. In the meantime, Elisa and The Creatures relationship continues to develop and we learn a little bit more about The Creature itself.

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At this point in the story, the bond between Elisa and The Creature is stronger than ever. The Creature is living with Elisa and Giles until they can make their daring escape.
Now, if you’re anything like me, you’re asking yourself one question: Do. They. Fuck? The answer is a resounding yes, multiple times in fact. That’s right, they go there. Though we don’t get to see what The Creature was working with (much to my chagrin), Elisa does describe to Zelda how it went down, anatomically speaking. When we see The Creature standing full frontal, it appears to be flat down there. But as Elisa tells Zelda, there’s a slit in his crouch area where his penis comes out. I’ll reiterate, we don’t get to see it, but the day after they do the deed for the first time, Elisa can’t keep a smile off her face. So he must have been packing some heat down there. Giles’ acceptance of Elisa’s and The Creature’s show’s that he understands that you need to take love wherever you can find it

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Moving on, we do get some hints as to The Creature’s origins. One of the government officials makes reference to the fact that the locals who lived near where The Creature was caught worshipped him as a river god. As we see we see later in the movie The Creature does possesses certain abilities. At one point, Giles has a wound on his arm, The Creature places his hand on the wound and gently puts his head against Giles’. Not only is his arm healed, but the next day Giles seems to appear a few years younger. Later, in the final act of the film, both Elisa and The Creature are mortally wounded by gunshots. The gunshots have no lasting effect on him, but The Creature’s able to completely heal Elisa. It’s also implied that he can give humans the ability to live and breeze underwater is he does. Anytime he uses his abilities, parts of his body glow slightly, which was a cool effect. Basically, The Creature’s a supernatural river god of some kind. Part of the fun is that we don’t get any answers to the questions these incidents bring up.

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If I had to give the film any major criticism its that the villain played by the great Michael Shannon is pretty one dimensional. He runs this high security facility (but they actually have pretty shitty security) and he kind of views himself as a cog in the wheel, his focus is to do a good job and move up. He’s also a bit of a religious zealot. At one point he says something like “God created us in his own image. God doesn’t look like that thing, he looks like us. That Creature is an abomination.”. That’s about as deep as he gets. But this is Michael Shannon so he still does a shitload with what he’s given.

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What I love most about Guillermo Del Toro as a filmmaker is that his films are modern day fairy tales (even when they don’t take place in the present). Del Toro himself called this “ A fairy tale for troubled time”. The director understands what most people forget; fairy tales may be filled with wonder, magic, and beauty, but they’re also dark, violent stories that end in death as much as they do “happily ever after”. For hundreds of years fairy tales were cautionary stories more than whimsical fantasies. While Del Toro’s films aren’t always cautionary tales (this film definitely isn’t) he never forgets the inherent darkness and brutality of a fairy tale. So few filmmakers can tell a story that can meld the vicious brutality that humans are capable of and still fill the story with magic, love, and beauty. Though some may be tempted to make the comparison, to call The Shape of Water a Beauty and the Beast story is somewhat reductive.

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This a return of the Guillermo Del Toro I love. However, this is by no means his best work. The Shape of Water is a wonderfully told story about romance, loneliness, prejudice, beauty, and love. While I enjoyed this film quite a bit, I’d say its only a “MUST SEE” if you’re a Guillermo Del Toro fan or the types of films he makes. But with it’s top notch performances and gorgeous direction this should definitely be on your list of movies to see as Awards season approaches.

The Shape of Water is in theatres nationwide now.

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The Shape of Water: 8.5/10

Thanks for reading !

-Paul

 

2 thoughts on “REVIEW: The Shape of Water

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