The Two Reviews: The Shape of Water (2017 Guillermo del Toro)

“…an adult fairytale, with love, passion and blood and violence…”

The Shape of Water is a ‘Beauty and the Beast’-style fairytale between a mute woman and an amphibious creature. Unapologetically emotional and melodramatic, director del Toro, who seems to specialize in deep-colour and moody fantasy narratives, delivers a moving and engaging film. Given the somewhat wild plot, that is an achievement. The creature (Doug Jones) – unmistakably a homage to The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) – is captured in the deep Amazon by a US military research team and deemed ‘the asset’. It is then shipped to a Baltimore research laboratory so that scientists might learn new things relating to space exploration (breathing apparatus) in their race to beat the Soviet Union. It is 1962, the height of the Cold War. The laboratory boss, Strickland (Michael Shannon), is hard-nosed, single-minded and mildly psychopathic, and is prepared to do whatever it takes to destroy the creature to learn the secrets of its breathing. A cleaner, Eliza (Sally Hawkins), who has been mute since birth, bonds with the creature, and they learn to communicate and exchange friendship, and later affection. As the ‘science’ nears its destruction of the creature, she must then save him.

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The set design is moody and impressive. But I love the lighting in this film. Bright shafts of filtered light from high windows or lamps shine a back-light on characters, creating soft shadows and muted colour that are reminiscent of filtered light in deep water. The music is good, as del Toro shifts from sci-fi-creature fantasy to jazz and tap-dance Hollywood in dream-like sequences. And it just works. It’s a fairytale after all. An adult fairytale, with love, passion and blood and violence. In addition to some nice jazz pieces, there is an original orchestral score by Alexandre Desplat, which is very impressive and adds to the moodiness of the film. The photography is good, and there are lots of interesting characters contributing to the story – indeed, all the main characters are ‘outsiders’ in some sense. But I single out Sally Hawkins. She is an outstanding actor; and even though I thought ‘this film is a bit silly’, I had a tear in my eye. If you like pure escapism in film, then this is an absolutely enjoyable two plus hours.

Reviewed by Robin Stevens – Rated 3.5/5

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“…it also paints a subtle picture of class and race prejudices…”

The Shape of Water is a film about two desperately lonely people and a mysterious sea creature that has been captured by the US government. It is a tale of desperation and loss, and being willing to sacrifice everything for love. The main character Eliza (Sally Hawkins) is a mute cleaning lady who works at a government research facility. She dreams of a life of happiness, inspired by the tap-dancing and singing she sees on her neighbour Giles’ (Richard Jenkins) TV. He, too, is lonely but forms a close friendship with Eliza.

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One day, Eliza and her work friend and fellow cleaner Zelda (Octavia Spencer) are cleaning one of the rooms at the facility when a delivery is made. In the haste of the delivery the research personnel forget that Eliza and Zelda are in the room, but they are soon ushered out before being able to see anything. The aggressive, career-driven Strickland (Michael Shannon) makes his appearance at this point. Eliza and Zelda are called in to clean up the mess after an incident occurs between Strickland and the creature (played by Doug Jones). Curious as to what has happened, Eliza walks to the water tank where she encounters the creature for the first time. She is awestruck. A deeply compassionate person, Eliza makes her mission each day to sneak in to see the creature. Over time they build a close friendship. The story that unfolds is one of passion and love, and being willing to sacrifice everything for love.

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The Shape of Water is an unusual movie, but it is very thought-provoking. The film is set in the early 1960s in the midst of the Cold War, which seeps into the narrative. It also paints a subtle picture of class and race prejudices that were predominant at the time. The story takes time to build, and it is not until 40 minutes in that the true picture of the research facility becomes apparent. Nonetheless, the characters are interesting and multi-dimensional. The acting is good, as is the storyline once it gets going. Be prepared to fast-forward the first 30 minutes of this movie, but all in all it is definitely worth a watch.

Reviewed by Annabelle Davis – Rated 3.8/5

 

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