On the surface, Guillermo del Toro’s movies all have a similar feel, his trademarks are monsters, machines, and bucketlaods of slime. His fascination for the weird and supernatural is ever-present in all of his works. Deeper down, for the most part, his movies are far kinder.
Despite his love for the creepy, the majority of work share an underlying theme: love. This love is not necessarily between a man and a woman, it is more so the love for the outcasts, the freaks, and the misfits. Maybe the biggest exception is his masterpiece involving giant mechs punching eldritch horrors might be a little lackluster when it comes to love, but it is not overlooked either. If you are a fan of weirdness and love, then his newest film « The Shape of Water » does not miss a beat.
This film is a retelling of The Creature from the Black Lagoon, or if you are a Hellboy fan, it’s the Abe Sapien solo-film we all wanted. The film is set in 1962 amidst the cold war in Baltimore. The protagonist Elisa (played by Sally Hawkins), is a mute woman, who works as a cleaner in a military base. An outcast by nature, she is only regarded as normal by a couple of her friends: a fellow cleaner (Octavia Spencer), and an eccentric artist (Richard Jenkins). Elisa’s curiosity gets the better of her when Colonel Strickland (Michael Shannon) brings in a unique and mysterious amphibian creature (Doug Jones) to study, hoping to learn any secrets it may hold. After sneaking into the creature’s holding cell, they spark a friendship, and learn to communicate via sign language. Elisa begins to feel less like a freak, and finds solace in their budding friendship.
It was not by chance that Del Toro picked the cold war era to set his film. He is able to feed his love for the retro-futuristic style of the era with blues, greens, and the talk of “the product of the future”, while taking advantage of the powerful wave of xenophobia and paranoia that overwhelmed America. It is unclear whether this is an allegory for social issues today may be intentional, but it definitely still holds water. At first glance, you see Del Toro’s signature touch. The cold metal, the eeriness, and the beauty of the unknown. The fluidity of water, and the wonderful use of light reflecting against it captures the whimsy and grace of the spooky. Essentially, he has usurped Tim Burton as the master of the sweet but creepy. Right from the start, you will instantly get the mood of the film, and will know what to expect.
When talking about classic monster movies, there is typically the hero, the damsel, and the monster. The monster shows up, scares the damsel, and the stoic hero punches it to oblivion. But we’re not talking about a monster movie, we’re talking about a romance. Doug Jones and Sally Hawkins are magical. They capture humor, fear, and absolute devotion for one another without ever saying a word. It feels genuine, and real. Jones is known for his prosthetic work, and it is a relief to see a monster that is composed of mostly practical effects, and seeing how far they’ve come in that technolgoy. Jones, a staple in most of del Toro’s films, pulls the creature off swimmingly, most likely due to his role as Abe Sapien. When it comes to the hero of the story, Sally Hawkins playing a mute woman is a bold choice especially when many movies are criticized for creating two dimensional and voiceless roles for women. Many classic monster movies always makes the woman the damsel in distress. Her lines barely being more than screams and swoons. « The Shape of Water » averts this cliché. She is far from being a helpless creature. She is the actual hero of the story. She shows countless amounts of compassion and loyalty for her friends, fighting off the rugged Colonel Strickland, who is the actual monster.
The Shape of Water is definitely not for everyone. However you feel about him as a director, do not go into this movie expecting a modern remake of a creature feature. The Shape of Water is a romance that features a creature. This movie blew me out of the water. The director’s attention to detail is spectacular. He created a movie full of thrills, chills, that is equally despite its dark themes is ever lovingly kind-hearted. Despite a few shocking scenes, it is definitely a movie to watch. This might be the best date movie this year, just expect to have an interesting conversation with your date once it is over.