Director: Guillermo Del Toro
Classification: 16 LVNS
As Oscar time draws nearer, one of the most hyped films is “The Shape of Water, ” a bizarre exercise into the realms of fantasy.
The film is set against the backdrop of the Cold War era in America (circa 1963), which celebrated Mexican director Guillermo Del Toro has captured in meticulous detail. His imagery is vividly depicted in every facet and often dazzles.
British actress Sally Hawkins plays Elisa, a lonely mute, who spends her days in a hidden high-security government laboratory where she works cleaning out toilets and scrubbing floors. It’s a dreary life of silence and isolation. Her co-worker is the motor-mouth Zelda (Octavia Spencer) who looks out for her. However, Elisa’s life is changed forever when she and Zelda discover a secret classified experiment, a human-like creature (Doug Jones) captured from the South American jungle.
Elisa bonds with the amphibian and slowly falls in love with it, realising that it has intelligence and they can communicate through sign language. Obviously they have to keep this “relationship” a secret, but things come to a head and Elisa is forced to “kidnap” the creature from the lab and re-home it in her tiny apartment above a movie theatre. The film’s striking chord is that both Elisa and this underwater monster are tortured outcasts.
“The Shape of Water” is a fairy tale masquerading as a horror story that, for me, doesn’t hold water. Its absurd fantasy premise reminded me of those B-Grade horror flicks about The Creature From the Black Lagoon (of which Del Torro admits he was a fan).This gilled apparition could be its distant cousin.
The characters are either good or bad. There is no grey area. Her co-worker Zelda and her neighbour Giles (Richard Jenkins), a struggling commercial artist, are good people who are caught up with the madness.
The villain of the piece is Richard Strickland, a greedy sadist played with relish by Michael Shannon at his nastiest, who captured the creature, brought it to New York in a tank, and who has plans for it. There is also a Russian spy (Michael Stuhlbarg) at the facility who is reporting to his Russian masters on the “find.”
All in all, “The Shape of Water” was disappointing, considering the vision and visual beauty shown in “Pan’s Labyrinth,” and it struggles to be simultaneously scary and poignant.