You might be hearing and seeing a lot about a little film called, The Shape of Water. As of this writing, it’s been nominated for 7 Golden Globe awards, 14 Critics Choice awards and named one of American Film Institute’s Top 10 Films of the Year.
That’s the kind of credibility that usually wants to make you run out and see the film that’s buzzing on everyone’s lips. But if it’s been a while since you’ve seen an “artsy” flick and the latest trip to theater involved a lot of CGI and really loud special effects, you’ll need to reset your thinking to get in the right frame of mind to watch The Shape of Water.
This project is the baby of Guillermo del Toro who is credited as writer, producer, and director, typical for his projects. But if you’re like me, your introduction to del Toro might have been through the family-friendly animated series on Netflix, Trollhunters.
Side note: We love watching this show on Netflix. Season 2 launches today and it’s just been renewed for a season 3. And it has absolutely NOTHING to do with the movie, Trolls (thank God).
This movie is about as far from family-friendly animation as you can get. And if you can get past the R rating, you’ll be in for a imaginative roller coaster ride into the fantastical mind of Guillermo del Toro.
The Shape of Water is the story of Elisa, a mute woman who works as a member of the night cleaning crew for a top secret government lab. When a creature arrives under the watchful eye of the scientists, the military, and the Russians, Elisa finds that her non-verbal communication skills help her to form a bond with this other-worldly river creature.
Set in 1960s Baltimore, the story reflects some of the issues of the time: Cold War paranoia, homophobia, racist attitudes. And watching this screening in The Charles Theatre in downtown Baltimore made it feel a little more homespun (especially when the antagonist declares, “Baltimore isn’t even a real city!”
But the real gems of the movie are the actors. Sally Hawkins, an English actress, plays the starring role of Elisa Esposito. Attractive but not stunning in any way makes Elisa the perfect misfit to form a connection with the creature. And if she looks vaguely familiarly (like she did for me) you might recognize her as the mother from Paddington.
Typically in movie reviews, I focus more on the story than the actors but the characterizations by Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Octavia Spencer, and Michael Stuhlbarg were spot on.
Now, at this point, the movie might sound a little weird but appealing. Hang on because there’s more to know.
It’s light, it’s campy, it’s violent, it’s sexual. In fact, it kind of defies classification. And if you’re not one that likes to see stories and characters stretched to their limits, this might not be for you.
Guillermo del Toro has alternated between dark fantasy pieces (often in Spanish) and more mainstream American action films. And of course, he’s created the animated series on Netflix. If you’ve seen some of his other works, like Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy, Pacific Rim and Crimson Peak, you might be prepared. But if you haven’t, just know that del Toro is unique in his creativity and storytelling.
As for the overall movie, despite the darker overtones, it’s really a beautiful love story that will leave you fulfilled as you leave the theater.