PUBLISHED 15 MARCH 2018
GUILLERMO Del Toro has always revelled in monsters, horror and a viciously delightful gothic aesthetic, seen in his previous works CRONOS (1993), HELLBOY (2004) and PAN'S LABYRINTH (2006). Del Toro always manages to deliver a visual spectacle, even if the characters themselves are not always as entertaining, like those seen in PACIFIC RIM (2013). But one recurring theme is that he masterfully weaves in another story alongside the main narrative. THE SHAPE OF WATER (2017) tackles toxic masculinity, sexism, racism, homophobia and ableism all under the guise of a monstrous tale of love.
Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins) is a mute cleaner of a government laboratory in 1962 Baltimore. She lives next to Giles (Richard Jenkins), a shy gay artist, who struggles to be comfortable in his own skin when in public. She discovers that the lab is experimenting on a humanoid dubbed the "Amphibian Man" or "The Asset". The Creature (Doug Jones) is ruthlessly tortured by his captor, Strickland, played by the electric Michael Shannon. As Elisa and the creature grow closer, she hatches a plot to set him free, and then the magic and chemistry between them really develops.
While some might find the love story between a movie monster and the heroine bizarre, there is a tenderness to it. It is not shown in a perverse way; the relationship between the two is genuinely fostered throughout the film. Doug Jones once again shows his acting prowess from behind a costume, as the Creature goes through his own silent character development much like Elisa. He initially enters the film as a violent captive and slowly learns to communicate using the same American Sign Language that Elisa uses.
Sally Hawkins captivates throughout, however there is one particularly heart-wrenching scene. As she attempts to persuade Giles to help her free the Creature, she angrily explains in sign language why she is so empathetic towards him. It is here that Elisa clearly struggles with the rest of society looking down upon her since she has no voice. This is especially apparent in an unnerving moment when Michael Shannon attempts to seduce her in the lab, only to face resounding rejection. The villain of the film is undoubtedly creepy. Shannon plays the near emotionless Colonel Strickland with little humanity and his true nature rears its ugly head in his torturing and pursuit of the Creature.
THE SHAPE OF WATER might have been globally critically praised and recognised by the Academy, winning Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Music Score and Best Production Design, but it is not without its flaws. A sub-plot regarding a Soviet agent feels like a misshapen addition to simply fill the gaps in the runtime of the film. Although Michael Stuhlbarg delivers a captivating performance as the conflicted lab doctor, it feels narratively unnecessary. An exploration of Strickland’s motivations and the reason for hating the monster would enhance the film.
THE SHAPE OF WATER is an impressive film, with astonishing visuals, heartfelt performances and Doug Jones easily secures another place in the Monster Hall of Fame.
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