The Shape Of Water (2017)
SHOULD I SEE IT?
One of the most anticipated movies of the fall, The Shape of Water is right in the heart of the Oscar conversation this year.
The acting is stellar, with Sally Hawkins, Richard Jenkins, and Doug Jones as "The Asset" stealing our hearts and Michael Shannon a menacing force we can't take our eyes off of.
Technically speaking, The Shape of Water is extraordinary from a technical standpoint, from the production design to the score, costumes, and visual effects. It's hard to believe this film was made for just $20 million.
Though there is a great message to think about and take away from The Shape of Water, the movie could confound people with its beauty-and-the-beast style story.
Might be a bit too quirky and odd for more mainstream audiences, even if the film has a lot of qualities that frequent moviegoers typically enjoy.
As someone pointed out to me recently - "what was the point of all of this exactly?"
One of the most anticipated films of 2017, The Shape of Water finds acclaimed writer and director Guillermo del Toro returning to the director’s chair, spinning another fantastical yarn that draws on the influences from cinema’s past to offer us something new and intriguing to consider for today.
We are in the undefined early 1960’s, Baltimore. Elisa (Sally Hawkins) is a cleaning lady at a secret government research facility, and works alongside Zelda (Octavia Spencer). Rendered mute from infancy, Elisa cannot speak and expresses herself through nods, winks, sign language, and expressions. She lives alone, above a movie theater, and her neighbor, Giles (Richard Jenkins), is something of a friend and fatherly protector to her.
Each have secrets. And together they look out for one another.
At the lab, some thing called “The Asset” arrives and Elisa is immediately curious as to what it might be. Housed within a giant water tank, “The Asset” (Doug Jones) arrives under tight security, and under the watchful eye of the eccentric, cold-to-the-touch Col. Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon). Strickland, with a penchant for sarcasm, misogyny, and lime candy, discovered the creature in a river in South America. The lab will be running tests and analyzing the creature and Strickland is tasked with making sure nothing goes wrong.
Upon set up, The Shape of Water begins to fold in ideas and nods and winks to the Universal movie monster stories, which have been a guiding influence on del Toro’s work before. And it is clear del Toro is fascinated with his creation, "The Asset" a character and creature we simply cannot take our eyes off of.
The Shape of Water has a hypnotic, intoxicating pacing, and the tone and atmosphere del Toro creates is palpable. This world feels true and real, and I, for one, found myself scouring every inch of the frame, taking in the world that these characters navigate through. We watch, rapt with attention, as Elisa and “The Asset” are restricted from one another and comforts and protections begin breaking down around the main characters.
del Toro is not afraid to hint that the world, as all of these characters know it, is about to drastically be altered forever, but he holds enough surprises close to his vest to keep his guessing at how everything will shake out.
Tension builds beat by beat and scene by scene, and as one connection grows, cultivates, and flourishes, a darker threat looms over every happy moment experienced by Elisa. The Shape of Water benefits exponentially from terrific performances, including Hawkins, mesmerizing, wonderful, and a character with such depth, we simply want to know more and more about her the more she appears on screen.
Her vulnerabilities and quizzical nature makes her someone we connect and identify with, even if have never become obsessed with a strange, sentient creature in a government-issued, top secret water tank. Jenkins is wonderful and endearing as the kindly neighbor, harboring his own secrets close at hand, and trepidatious of the world outside his apartment.
On the converse, Michael Shannon is a force, tenacious and unrelenting, crafting a menacing, but charismatic barrier between asset and human. As del Toro and co-writer Vanessa Taylor reveal in the screenplay, Strickland has a lot at stake with his discovery.
The film is gorgeous, a masterful work of impeccable detail and craftsmanship. With del Toro slashing his budget back to $20 million, The Shape of Water looks far more expensive and epic in scale and ambition. Somehow, he also finds a way to retain an intimacy, both in story and in character, that a number of filmmakers could study and learn from.
And now the dilemma.
With all of the positives one lavishes on The Shape of Water, I wrestle deeply with admiring the film and not loving it. Perhaps it’s the tonal shift that occurs in the final act. Maybe it’s that the movie stops just short of fully earning the emotions connected to the commentary it makes about love, acceptance, acceptance without judgment, and how everyone deserves to feel an emotional bond to someone. The movie has all the right pieces in place to be truly special, but when the movie makes its final pitch, I felt pushed to the perimeter, somehow, inexplicably, oddly unaffected.
Some feel this is del Toro’s finest film since 2006’s Oscar-winning Pan’s Labyrinth. That may very well be true, but del Toro, in his finest moments, finds way to make the fantastical worlds he creates seem very real. He can generate unnerving tension, anxiety, and terror as good as anyone. We feel the violence in his films, we are impacted by the plot twists he can toss our way, and are engrossed with the resplendent visuals he has given us time and time again.
With The Shape of Water, there is an honest appreciation for everything on screen. For a movie that checks off every box for why we love the movies, with a beautiful Sally Hawkins, a moving Richard Jenkins, and an impressive Michael Shannon, stunning production design, and a moving score from Alexandre Desplat, why do I find myself patting this wonderful film on the back, instead of touching the glass and wanting to set it free and embrace it.
Perhaps my shape of water remains undefined.
CAST & CREW
Starring: Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Octavia Spencer, Doug Jones, Michael Stuhlbarg, Lauren Lee Smith, Nick Searcy, David Hewlett, Morgan Kelly.
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Written by: Guillermo del Toro, Vanessa Taylor (screenplay); Guillermo del Toro (story).
Release Date: December 1, 2017
Fox Searchlight Pictures