From Black Lagoons to Murky Bathtubs, "The Shape of Water" will Mystify and Inspire
By Jacey Aldredge
There’s something about old movie monsters that just gets the people going. Werewolves, vampires, mummies, oh my! It’s a campy culture of the misunderstood and unreal, swarming with classics like Jack Arnold’s “Creature from the Black Lagoon.” Released in 1954, "Creature" arrived during a time of unprecedented change— Brown v. Board found segregation in schools to be unconstitutional, Elvis Presley released his first commercial record, and women were slowly moving into to the workforce. “Creature,” though one of the first monster classics to be made in the 50’s, is also one of the only vintage horror films to not garner a contemporary remake. Until now. Granted, Guillermo del Toro’s “The Shape of Water” should be seen as more of a sequel or loving homage to the creature than a remake of the original. “The Shape of Water” encapsulates all the best things both about old movies, and del Toro’s filming style. It’s haunting and enchanting, but dangerous and grungy all the same. “Shape” is del Toro’s best work since “Pan’s Labyrinth” and perhaps better still.
“The Shape of Water” is simply put, a love story. Set in a research facility in the 1960’s, “The Shape of Water” follows mute janitor Eliza Esposito (the iridescent Sally Hawkins), as her curiosity towards a new “asset” causes her to discover a beautiful but terrible aquatic creature from Brazil. While the scientists of the facility and the man who brought it in fight over its purpose and future, Eliza builds a relationship with the creature, teaching it sign language and, ultimately, finding love.
However, del Toro doesn’t deal in “simply put”; rather, he sells complexity and captivation, and “Shape” is no different. While love may be the foundation, the bricks are comprised of magic, a clandestine operation, and undercurrents of sexism and homophobia prevalent during the Cold War. His script does exactly what it needs to, and no more; having a mute protagonist allows for the development of color and music, and cinematography gets to take the reigns. Blues, greens, and browns wash over the screen and at once create an atmosphere of ordinary meeting extraordinary. Shadows and silhouettes reign supreme, instilling a sense of secrecy with every scene, where even a trip to the local pie diner becomes cast in assumption.
Composer Alexandre Desplat has curated the best score of 2017; it’s inviting, mystical, and full of depth. It matches the performances step for step, helping to solidify how Hawkins’ Eliza communicates and how the creature reacts. In fact, music is a large part of “Shape,” as Eliza comes home to her lovable gay neighbor, Giles (Richard Jenkins), to escape in tap dancing specials and television musicals. del Toro has opened a world which enriches your senses, and truly expresses the beauty of American Sign Language. Sally Hawkins is a vital part of this and without her patience and passion as Eliza, “Shape” would’ve been lacking in heart. She accepts the creature for who he is, and is voracious in her dislike of anyone who doesn’t truly listen to her and those around her. Octavia Spencer’s Zelda is the perfect companion for Eliza, she’s spunky, a survivor, and speaks her mind. Their friendship is unique but necessary, and is another reflection of a beautifully diverse world.
Amidst this beauty lives the volatile and perverse Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon of “Nocturnal Animals”) whose disgust with all those below him is exuberantly pronounced. He represents so much of historically male America, whose idea of power is to take from those who have less. Shannon plays the villain unapologetically; his obsession with mute Eliza (which leads to a very uncomfortable near-rape scene between him and his wife) along with his control hungry objective to rid himself of the Amazonian amphibian man, is unwavering and expands with each failure. He is vicious and bloody like the red of a good steak. Forewarning, hearing the sound of chewed mints will never sound so grating.
With all this emphasis on human behavior, you may think del Toro might have gone easy on the horror fantasy aspects he’s known for. Don’t fret; there’s plenty of bloody shock value for us all to enjoy (keep your eye out for a pair of rotting fingers). In fact, Doug Jones’s portrayal as the amphibian man is animalistic and human all at once. He invites you in and won’t let you go; you’ll be dreaming of him as your very own Prince Charming by the end of “Shape.” Guillermo del Toro has created a picturesque (and grotesque) appreciation of an older time, full of detail. This amphibian man causes everyone around him to change, for better or worse. Eliza buys the red shoes she didn’t think she deserved, Giles begins painting with raw emotion and with more visceral strokes, even the cats sense something new is affront.
“The Shape of Water” is, quite literally, a story of transformation, and just as Strickland tells himself in the mirror, Guillermo del Toro “does not fail, he delivers.”
'THE SHAPE OF WATER'
Directed by GUILLERMO DEL TORO
Written by GUILLERMO DEL TORO
Starring SALLY HAWKINS, DOUG JONES, MICHAEL SHANNON
Distributed by FOX SEARCHLIGHT
"The Shape of Water" is in theaters nationwide Dec 22.
For more information or to purchase tickets, visit here.