Sunday 11 March 2018

The Shape of Water by del Toro and Taylor

I've seen most of Guillermo del Toro's output: everything from his debut feature Cronos in 1993 through to Pacific Rim 2013. Then, after twenty years of disappointment, I pretty much threw in the towel.

That's a bit of an exaggeration. I really liked Blade II... But such widely loved and highly regarded works as The Devil's Backbone and Pan's Labyrinth just left me cold. And I particularly detested the Hellboy movies (what a waste of Ron Perlman...).

I mention all this so you will know it was by no means a foregone conclusion that I'd love The Shape of Water. But love it I did.

The movie was written by del Toro in collaboration with Vanessa Taylor. Taylor has a background in television writing, ranging from Alias — an old favourite of mine — to Game of Thrones (which I currently think is the greatest TV series ever made). She also scripted Divergent, but we won't hold that against her.

Because The Shape of Water is terrific. It tells the story of... well, you know the story: basically a deaf female janitor at a secret government research facility falls in love with the Creature from the Black Lagoon, who is being held captive there.

It's like a super-deluxe, full colour, full length version of a 1960s Outer Limits episode, made for adult audiences.

The janitor is Elisa, portrayed by British actress Sally Hawkins with great subtlety and considerable courage. She unflinchingly appears nude, and performs, ahem, acts of auto-eroticism in the bathtub in scenes which cleverly set up the film's theme of associating sexuality and water.

Octavia Spencer is great as fellow janitor (janitress?) Zelda. And Michael Stuhlbarg, who was splendid in Steve Jobs, is good as a sympathetic scientist.

The bad guy is military stooge Strickland played by Michael Shannon, who is very effective but is basically reprising his uptight fed from Boardwalk Empire, right down to making love to his wife with his socks on.

However, besides Sally Hawkins, it is Richard Jenkins who really impresses as Elisa's kindly neighbour Giles, a commercial artist whose cat Pandora gets eaten (with hideous skull-crunching sound effects) after they help the creature escape and give him sanctuary.

Oh, and the creature, called Amphibian Man, is played by Doug Jones in a superb monster suit which is iridescent, with beautiful colours. He also has really cool feline eyes (you'd have thought he could have spared poor Pandora out of intra-species loyalty...).

The film is set in the early 1960s and nominally takes place in Baltimore, but it was shot in Toronto (the Toronto crew came in for particular thanks at the Academy Awards ceremony). 

It's visually splendid, with a nice period feel and a lovely score by Alexander Desplat — who won an Oscar for it.

The film also won — astonishingly — Best Picture. I say astonishingly because the Academy is notorious for its dislike of science fiction del Toro got Best Director and Paul Austerberry won for Production Design.

Sally Hawkins, Octavia Spencer and Richard Jenkins were all nominated for Oscars but failed to win. Spencer lost to Allison Janney in I, Tonya and Jenkins to Sam Rockwell in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. In both cases I'd go along with that.

Hawkins lost to Frances McDormand in Three Billboards, and here I beg to differ. Not least because Three Billboards is so much weaker than The Shape of Water.

And del Toro and Vanessa Taylor were also nominated for their original screenplay, but lost to Jordan Peele for his script to Get Out. And in this case I can't fault the academy. 

Both are wonderful movies, but Get Out is deeper, more important and profound and subversive.

The Shape of Water has moments which are silly and unbelievable, but this mattered not a jot because the movie was so appealing and won me over so completely. And I'm going to give you a soft spoiler here by telling you that it has a happy ending.

Grisly cat-eating scene aside, I enjoyed every minute of The Shape of Water. It's a lovely movie, touching, exciting and satisfying.

(Image credits: just a handful (with webbed fingers) of posters available from Imp Awards.)


  1. Fish fingered.

    Watched this today and really enjoyed it although two things niggled me: one, the often needless nudity (especially Michael Shannon's wife) and two, how come there were no security cameras monitoring inside the cell our fishy friend was kept in?

  2. I thought the plot was full of holes, but I was so won over I was happy to ignore them. (Very unlike me!) Good to hear from you. Cheers!

  3. fandango - If I told you about her, what would I say? That they lived happily ever after? I believe they did. That they were in love? That they remained in love? I'm sure that's true. But when I think of her.. of Elisa.. the only thing that comes to mind is a poem whispered by someone in love hundreds of years ago. Unable to perceive the shape of you, I find you all around me, your presence fills my eyes with your love! It humbles my heart, for you are everywhere! This films was 2 hours of my life that will never ever be repeated. A stunning love story of a lonely woman who falls in love with a sea monster. A love so true, so humble, so rare, so uneasy and yet so beautiful! Two God's creatures find themselves falling in love, this is a story of a magical and real love under unreal circumstances. I'm so touched and so emotional that words are hard to describe, but they come flowing. This is an adult fairytale that will take you into a great adventure. This film is for dreams and anyone in love can relate to it. Winner of 2 Golden Globes for best directing and score by Alexander Desplat, this movie is definitelt worth watching! It will take your breath away!
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