Famed director Guillermo del Toro is a master of bringing creatures to life on the big screen. All of del Toro’s movie making decisions are carefully calculated and deliberately unique. That’s to say, you know one of his movies when you see it. There’s no mistaking the feel, the fantasy, or the fascinating end result. From Pan’s Labyrinth to Pacific Rim, he has shown that his mind works like no other and produces some of the most intriguing concepts of any big name director. He’s a creator of wondrous tales and director of the Academy Award Winner for Best Picture of the Year, The Shape of Water.
How Weird Were The 1960s?
Off the rip, I was pleasantly surprised that Del Toro managed to stay far away from the tired movie trope of teasing the creature, monster or main antagonist of a fantasy film. He was not trying to bait you into watching 45 minutes of the movie to only receive two or three camera shy glimpses of the creature. I cannot thank that decision making team enough! Within fifteen minutes you get a good look at this thing. You witness the amphibious organism meet our main character and understand what is likely to transpire, but you don’t have a damn clue how it will happen.
The Shape of Water is set in the 1960s; the perfect era of mystery. UFO stories, Big Foot sightings, Loch Ness monster claims, urban legends and unexplained phenomena were everywhere then, as now. There was no internet then, obviously. Cameras were still expensive and catching on. Perhaps the country wasn’t so jaded, and oral history was still alive and well. In the 60s, we had no way of debunking a story that some aquatic creature was being held in a heavily guarded facility getting poked, prodded and tested on the daily. We believed there were still creatures that went bump in the night and unsolved mysteries that
could would one day blow our minds, whenever the government came clean. Of course now our imaginative minds have “facts” that supposedly cover every inch of the known world.
The Monster and the Girl
*Spoilers be shocking humanoids with a cattle prod*
The Shape of Water is the story of Elisa Esposito, played by Sally Hawkins. Sally doesn’t speak. She falls in love with a being who sees her for who she is, not focusing on her silence. This is a very powerful theme of the movie because, as we later find out, our antagonist is the complete antithesis of the creature and its accepting ways. The amphibious being is brought into a facility where Elisa and Zelda, played by Octavia Spencer, work. They are the “cleaning ladies” who have full access to nearly every room in the facility. Elisa sneaks into the room where the creature is held, and has a moment with the creature. Together they develop a hard boiled egg sharing, picnic by the water, relationship. She realizes it is more than a stupid animal or asset to be studied, and slowly but surely develops very real feelings for
Note: We find out the creature is most definitely a male. I won’t get deep into the details, but I am telling you this movie does a marvelous job of making fantastical sci-fi romantic love and sex, quite watchable and acceptable.
This is the part of the review where I have to say that this is a VERY weird movie that is done impeccably well. As the Academy Awards prove, you become invested in her plan to release him from our villain’s clutches. Your desire to watch the creature return to the open seas grows. You really want to see if Elisa is madly in love with him. Or if it’s going to turn out that she’s just concerned with his well being because he is the first male to see her as she is, a whole person, and not as someone who is “broken” and deserving of only being teased until she “squawks”.
That’s an actual line that is grossly delivered by Michael Shannon, who does it again as the piece of shit in charge of this entire experiment, Colonel Richard Strickland. His progression from the start of the film to finish, is the stuff of deteriorating villain legend. He goes from all powerful military agent to a disgraced and dejected shell of his former self.
And the rest of that supporting cast fam?! A whole team of cinematic hittas. Richard Jenkins does work as Elisa’s neighbor and best friend, Giles. Michael Stuhlbarg became one of my favorite actors after his role on Boardwalk Empire as notorious NYC kingpin, Arnold Rothstein. Here Stuhlbarg plays Dr. Robert Hoffstetler, a scientist studying “the asset.” Luckily there’s much more to his character than meets the eye. Now, do I even need to tell you how great Oscar winner Octavia Spencer is in her role?! Let’s be real. But as originally stated, Michael Shannon’s performance is stellar and drives the film from grand opening to the closing credits.
If you need further proof explaining how outstanding of an actor he really is, just check out Shannon’s interview with Verge, where he reveals how Octavia Spencer used his name to equate greatness: “Octavia came up with this term on set, ‘Shannoning,’ where you get something right in one take. Every once in a while, after one take, Guillermo would be like “That’s perfect!” and Octavia would say, “I Shannoned it!” It became part of our vernacular. But even if I got, early on, what he was going for, I always wanted to keep kicking it around, just because it was so delicious. A delicious character is such a rare opportunity. You don’t get opportunities like The Shape of Water very often.”
The Shape of Water is a great movie that you should check out as soon as you can. Guillermo Del Toro has crafted a story like you’ve never seen, and will be talking about for years. The bathroom pool scene alone is enough to drop jaws and blow minds. Enjoy.