THE SHAPE OF WATER
REVIEW: THE SHAPE OF WATER
Running Length: 124 minutes
Release Date: 14th February 2018
Directed by: Guillermo del Toro
Cast: Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Michael Stuhlbarg
Story by: Guillermo del Toro
Cinematography: Dan Laustsen
``A bit of a wet mess.``
Clunky characterisation and awkward tonal shifts are the order of the day in Guillermo del Toro’s awards hoover.
The Shape of Water is a seriously messed up, very adult fairy tale set against a Cold War backdrop. Mute Elisa (Sally Hawkins) lives a regimented existence, starting every day with a bit of breakfast, a bath and a bout of onanism. Then it’s off to work at the local top secret government laboratory where government spook Strickland (Michael Shannon) has arrived with a mysterious aquatic humanoid. Elisa begins to bond with the creature. When she discovers Strickland has been torturing and experimenting on it, Elisa plots to rescue the fishman with the help of neighbour Giles (Richard Jenkins) and co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer), and return it back to the ocean.
The Shape of Water certainly looks beautiful. Production designer Paul Denham Austerberry has done a stunning job in building an exquisite steampunk look. Combined with Alexandre Desplat’s (The Grand Budapest Hotel) gallic score and the overall effect is redolent of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s best work. The aesthetic is like a FUBAR Améile (picture Audrey Tatou doing it with a fish). While this surface beauty goes some way to explaining the disproportionate attention The Shape of Water has received in the run-up to awards season, it is only a surface beauty. To be fair, it’s not hard to be swept away by del Toro’s vision up to a point. But then that point arrives.
To paraphrase Salt-N-Pepa, let’s talk about verisimilitude, baby. A significant event occurs halfway through the movie. This event is so utterly preposterous that it not only destroys the credibility of everything that comes after it, but also illuminates how daft everything up to this point has been.
You’ll know it when you see it, but suffice to say that Elisa really likes fish.
Credibility destroyed and The Shape of Water’s myriad problems start to emerge. There is no sense of character development or organic cause-and-effect. Things escalate quickly and illogically. One minute Elisa is feeding the fishman boiled eggs, and the next minute… Well, just see for yourself. She also seems to have a rather high level of security clearance for a cleaner. You would imagine the shadowy government forces would be quite circumspect about letting cleaning staff wander around secret experiments on man-fish hybrid prisoners. Not so.
Shannon is eminently watchable as ever and Hawkins, it must be said, is a delight. But there’s no magic here. He may hint at hiding a complex, tortured soul, but Shannon’s bad guy ends up as just another one dimensional villain. Tack on some morality as deep as a children’s story (the real monster is man), and this is all a bit of a wet mess.
Del Toro’s disappointing Crimson Peak was a homage to 1960s Hammer horrors, and The Shape of Water is obviously in thrall to Universal’s monster movies of the 1950s. There’s no getting around the fact that this entity/fishman/whatever is anything other than a bloke in a fish suit. Here is a rare example of when practical effects are not necessarily better than CG.
It looks increasingly unlikely that del Toro has another Pan’s Labyrinth or The Devil’s Backbone in him. The Shape of Water is a very pretty shell with a rotten, hollow core. I see the appeal; I just don’t agree with it.