From master storyteller Guillermo del Toro comes THE SHAPE OF WATER, an otherworldly fable set against the backdrop of Cold War era America circa 1962. In the hidden high-security government laboratory where she works, lonely Elisa (Sally Hawkins) is trapped in a life of isolation. Elisa’s life is changed forever when she and co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer) discover a secret classified experiment. Rounding out the cast are Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Michael Stuhlbarg, and Doug Jones. Written by Fox Searchlight Pictures
Tomatometer: 92% / 77%
Even though it’s always a bit questionable when IMDb or Orca are using the writeups by movie distributors, Fox Searchlight was correct in calling Guillermo del Toro a master storyteller. Because that’s exactly what sets his films apart from the Hollywood mainstream these days. He’s an auteur filmmaker, he tells and shows us stories. This is not a hired gun, executing other people’s rudimentary visions and half baked ideas (hello Star Wars) but a man with a vision, a man on a mission!
Yes, del Toro has something to tell us. And it shows in the product. His vision was obviously strong enough to drive all involved parties to giving their best. From camera work, via lighting and production design, up to top-notch acting, SoW had it all. It was a delightful movie!
Some overly analytical movie critics can say SoW was tonally uneven, some silly Orca will say “So what?”. I’m happy to report that del Toro hasn’t lost his playful attitude to treat every movie like an anime or an Asian movie. Maybe you remember how disappointed I was with Pacific Rim, at least he managed to give us an original, westernized take on Japanese mecha culture and movies. It was like 20 gundam movies compressed into a live action spectacle. And after repeated watching I’ve gotta correctify my initial bad rating. Pacific Rim was whimsical, just in a clumsy way.
Where was I? Uh, yes, of course: Whimsical Asian filmmaking. You know they don’t care much about keeping whole movies at a certain mood level, there is drama when there needs to be drama, comedy when they feel some laughs are necessary. They speed up and slow down whenever necessary. That’s what makes Japanese and particularly Korean movies so exciting. One moment you’re laughing, next moment your popcorn spills all over the floor like the intestines of a crazed axe murderers teenage victim. 😮 Del Toro got that principle; the emotional rollercoaster. That’s what makes his movies so exciting.
So what was SoW like? As I said, it was like an anime movie. And when I say that I mean it with the utmost respect and admiration. Anime can be great, in case you didn’t know yet. But it was also very good material for western film festivals, even for arthouse movie theatres. Let’s forget the surface with that slimy creature and over zealous, coldblooded American military guys, this was first and foremost a movie about loneliness, about incomplete characters who were missing something in their lifes. All of them. Yes, even swamp thing was looking for love. So at its heart SoW was a very sad movie. But not in a tearfilled, soggy handkerchief way but, in lack of a better word, … exciting.
Shape of Water seemingly effortlessly meanders through various movie genres, like only Del Toro can do it in the Hollywood system. SciFi, romance, spy drama, psycho, arthouse, love story you name it. Yes, and even a musical number! A movie for everybody! 😉
Ok, as I’ve already told you, screenplay, direction, production, all first rate. And the actors didn’t disappoint neither. First of all Sally Spencer, who really shone (or is it shined? Sheened?) in the not easy to play role of a mute. She really can carry a movie, a task many much more famous actors fail at. It’s a joy watching her acting with her face and her eyes. Octavia Spencer was great in a typical Octavia Spencer role. She oozes human warmth out of every pore.
Michael Shannon shines as obsessive, uptight,
slighty psychotic and brutal FBI/CIA type security agent, Richard Jenkins plays Elisa’s gay flatmate with just the right understatement and Michael Stuhlbarg gives us a very good undecided Scientist/Russian mole. But that’s all just their surface functions, while under the skin they are all damaged goods, very lonely people.
One remark about the water creature: He was just a plot vehicle, so there wasn’t much to do in terms of character development for Doug Jones. Maybe interesting tidbit of info for movie buffs: Doug Jones already played a similar aqua man, Abe Sapien, in del Toro’s Hellboy movies. There his role was a bit more fleshed out, so slipping into the much uglier costume for SoW was probably easy for him.
CONCLUSION: After quite some disappointments coming out of tinseltown, Shape of Water was a stroke of luck … or, let’s better say, decent filmmaking. It wasn’t a product made for a specific target audience but an exciting story, very competently set up and filmed. Was SoW the film of the century? Naaw, far from. But in the cinematic landscape of the early 21st century it’s an outstanding achievement.
WATCH IT? Why, yes, of course! Alone or with a loved one, preferably sober and clear minded, happy or sad. It doesn’t matter.
And as usual, here come YouTube’s review gang:
Okay, with our two stalwarts out of the way, let’s watch what others thought about The Shape of Water.