The Shape of Water review
Today's movie deals with a love between a human and a monster. Many should immediately shout, "Beauty and the Beast!", as that's the most well known fairy tale of that same kind of love. When you come down to it, it's seen as bizarre, considering that it's practically two different species that have declared a love between each other. It's a connection that falls off the radar, but you could argue we have connections to a lot of things that are not human. Children love their electronic video games. Pet owners love their dogs. What's different is that those connections are not romantic, but rather mutual.
Cinematically, we've gotten a lot more love stories between creatures then we realize. Shrek had an ogre in love with a human. Splash had a man in love with a mermaid. But the biggest example, oddly enough, are monster movies (more specifically, the universal monster classics). Dracula, The Mummy, and even the Phantom of the Opera pushed the boundaries of the connection that love is. The biggest example, though touched lightly, was The Creature from the Black Lagoon. Though I can't say it's a full remake, The Shape of Water seems to tell a story about a gill man who makes that connection with a human woman.
It's the early 1960s. Elisa (played by Sally Hawkins) is a mute woman who lives a quiet life, working as a janitor for a government research facility in Baltimore. Her two friends consist of neighbor Giles (played by Richard Jenkins), a closeted gay man who teaches her about old music and film, and coworker Zelda (played by Octavia Spencer) who is also her sign language interpreter for their employer. Her life is changed when colonel Richard Strickland (played by Michael Shannon) brings in a creature he captured in South America.
When Elisa comes to clean the room the "asset" is, she sees that it's a gill man. She starts to bring it food and even music to show that she means no harm. Slowly, the two become friends as they connect without ever speaking (considering that Eliza is mute and the gill man can't speak). Things look bleak as Strickland, obsessed with the cold war, want's the creature dissected and studied for the space race. At the same time, Soviet spies want the creature destroyed so the U.S. can't get ahead. The race is on to see if Eliza can outwit both sides of the war for her love.
While there does seem to be similarities to Creature from the Black Lagoon, I can assure your that The Shape of Water is not only a different film, but a pretty good one to beheld. It's strengths lie within it's story and cast. Despite being very cold war orientated, this story has a fairy tale quality to it. It's director Guillermo del Toro directed a similar project called Pan's Labyrinth, but the goals were similar; to bring tales of beauty and hope within dark times.
The Shape of Water is a love story first, and while I won't spoil anything, I can guarantee that I really wanted to see our two characters live together. You really feel for Eliza (who Sally Hawkins is phenomenal as playing), who is figuratively and literally a silent character waiting for her moment to present her voice. That all comes within the gill creature, whose effects are not only amazing (an example at how practical and CGI can work together), but you get a lot of personality from him. He's shy, but open to trying new things. He's a lot like a powerful child who is learning about the human world. These two do make a great couple.
Even the cold war elements are really good. The film smartly presents both sides as wrong…yet with people that do want to see good come out. This is also a secret I'll let the film reveal, but it makes me realize how black and white many modern movies about Soviets usually are.
I'll say now that The Shape of Water also happens to be a sexual story. I can see a lot of people turned off by this and simply too weird of a love story, but the movie makes it palatable enough that people should see through it's inner beauty.
I'll give this five gill men out of five. It’s definitely a well written, well acted, well designed, and well directed. Fans of Guillermo del Toro, monster stories, and fantasy will like this. Will mainstream audiences get into it? It's hard to tell, but if people can love a beast from Beauty and the Beast, I don't see why they can't also love this gill man. Go see it, and find out if this story of silent beauty floats.