Guillermo Del Toro has an up and down record with me. Some of his stuff is amazing, like Pan’s Labyrith or the Hellboy films. Other movies like Crimson Peak and even Pacific Rim were lackluster to me. Will this film manage to fall on the positive side?
It’s the 1960s. There’s a hidden government lab, where our lead heroine Elisa (Sally Hawkins) works as a janitor, alongside her friend Zelda (Octavia Spencer). One day, things get turned upside down when a new creature arrives to the lab, a dangerous amphibian creature (played by Doug Jones). This creature is escorted by a security detail (led by Michael Shannon) and has a dedicated doctor to examine him (Michael Stuhlbarg). We also have Elisa’s neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins), who might just be her closest friend.
This movie is unlike anything I’ve ever seen, which isn’t surprising considering Del Toro’s history and willingness to break the mold. Although the story is alienating and sometimes disturbing, it’s humanized and anchored by Sally Hawkins, who might snag a nomination for this. Although her character is mute, she has immense personality and is able to emote volumes with just her face.
Everyone around Hawkins pulls their weight as well. Michael Shannon as the villain of the story is perfect but he’s not stretching any new muscles here. We have an interesting storyline that allows Michael Stuhlbarg to really shine, as the scientist and doctor assigned to examining the creature. Richard Jenkins as Elisa’s neighbor is also given a lot to do, including a side arc of him trying to flirt with the waiter at a local diner.
Why most folks will see this movie is for the creature, this Creature from the Black Lagoon. He’s played perfectly by Doug Jones, who has done nearly every Del Toro film before this, including playing the very similar Abe Sapian from the Hellboy films. He nails it, complemented by some incredible prosthetics and digital effects.
This movie will be divisive, so it’s incredibly hard to score. It is a romance. Sally Hawkins manages to convince us that her character can fall in love with this creature and it’s a roller coaster of emotions. Some folks will balk immediately at this notion. If that concept alone makes you feel uncomfortable, this might be a tough go for you. I found it interesting and thought-provoking, as it brings up questions of what makes a person a person.
The movie is a slow go, highlighted by just a few action sequences, so if you’re looking for a sci fi adventure, this isn’t it. It’s a romance, a drama, so expect that level of pacing.
Also, like I said above, you need to be comfortable with the idea of a love story where one half of that love is not human. If you’re interested in what that could look like, check this out, but if you feel hesitant or uncomfortable, I warned you.
The Shape of Water is fantastic, among one of Del Toro’s best. The two lovers are both incredible, with both Sally Hawkins and Doug Jones carrying more than their weight here. This movie will confront you with questions about humanity and love and compassion and it does it all perfectly, though the drama nature of the film may seem a tad slow to some of you. For me, I found it intriguing and when the credits rolled, I was still fascinated by it. If you think this topic is interesting, find this movie showing near you.