From master story-teller, Guillermo del Toro, comes THE SHAPE OF WATER – an other-worldly fable, set against the backdrop of Cold War era America circa 1962. In the hidden high-security government laboratory where she works, lonely Elisa (Sally Hawkins) is trapped in a life of isolation. Elisa’s life is changed forever when she and co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer) discover a secret classified experiment. Rounding out the cast are Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Michael Stuhlbarg and Doug Jones.
What We Thought:
There are things I like about The Shape of Water and things I don’t. I went in hoping it was better than Crimson Peak, director Guillermo del Toro’s previous film, and that’s pretty much what I got, a film better than Crimson Peak, but not a film I loved.
The film is too long. It is a little over 2 hours long and I don’t mind 2 hour long movies, but there is a lot that is unnecessary to the story that could have shortened the film. That’s the biggest flaw, so much unnecessary stuff in it. There is a dance routine between Elisa (Sally Hawkins) and the creature that felt out of place. I understand the film is an homage/throwback to Old Hollywood, but the dance number just wasn’t necessary.
There is a restaurant setting that serves no purpose whatsoever. Richard Jenkins’s character goes to get pie at the restaurant and at no point does any of it pay off. The restaurant/worker does nothing for the story. The narrative at no point is bettered by the restaurant scenes and there are multiple restaurant scenes. And if I’m being honest, Jenkins (who I think is an amazing actor) really isn’t necessary either. Elisa lives with him, but ultimately you could cut him out completely. She has a friend in Octavia Spencer and Jenkins being her friend could be eliminated. You could also get rid of the, um, Elisa “self love” scenes that felt really out of place.
It also felt a bit like Suburbicon although not nearly as terrible. That movie suffered from so many side stories and clutter and this does as well. Being based in the 1960s, the film wants to talk about social messages, how America viewed other countries/races/sexuality, but it also feels like del Toro’s love note to an era of film that he clearly enjoyed. The creature is your classic Old Hollywood creature style and the government wants to use it or dissect it and learn its secrets. Back in the day we were paranoid about The Commies and others and would use anything we could to get an advantage. Think of it as Creature from the Black Lagoon meets Get Out.
But it does have a lot of positives too. Doug Jones is AMAZING as The Creature. People love to give Andy Serkis props for his CGI acting and deservedly so, but Jones’s resume of Practical Effects acting is equally as impressive. Jones provides a lot of humanity to a creature that science and the government want different things from. The acting in general is top-notch (Hawkins, Jenkins, Michael Shannon, Spencer and Michael Stuhlbarg are always good), but Jones is never mentioned in terms of acting skills like those others.
I liked the set design, direction and overall look of the film. del Toro is a master with a camera and creates worlds and sets better than most out there. His sets in this are reminiscent of the old monster movies I watched as a kid and clearly he did as well. It has the music and theater look of 1950s and 60s song and dance movies as well. It’s just a great backdrop for a story, I just wish it was less cluttered.
Overall I think I liked The Shape of Water, but I’m actually not sure if I did. There is so much I would personally cut from the film to make it better that it’s hard to praise the movie. The direction setting, production design, acting and everything else is through the roof though. It is definitely one of the most unique films of the year and if you like del Toro, check it out.
Cast & Crew:
- Sally Hawkins
- Michael Shannon
- Richard Jenkins
- Doug Jones
- Michael Stuhlbarg
- Octavia Spencer
- Director Guillermo del Toro