Has Guillermo Del Toro’s stock dropped recently? I’m only saying that because in the build up for the film we are discussing today, there wasn’t exactly much of a build up. I’m glued to film news and I saw some murmurings about a Hellboy spin-off some years ago, a brief trailer about a month back and a friend saying it looked pretty interesting. This wasn’t the same assault on the presses that came with Crimson Peak, but then again that was a misjudged film which caused this alleged drop in stock. So can The Shape of Water see Del Toro’s stock rise once again?
Mute Elisa (Sally Hawkins, Happy-Go-Lucky) works as a cleaner at a top secret facility. She is intrigued when they bring in a amphibian fish like humanoid and she soon develops a relationship with him. However when Richard Strickland decides to kill the creature so they can dissect him, Elisa tries to bust him out of the facility.
If you remember the criticism of Crimson Peak, it mostly centred around the expectations. Everyone came in expecting gothic horror and they ended up with a gothic romance. That romance wasn’t much to shout about it, but it didn’t help when you came in thinking you getting were a completely different film. Del Toro has learned and has been up front with the fact this is a romance film and not your usual one so get ready to watch a women get intimate with a fish. It works though, it really really works. Bizarrely, a mute woman and the modern version of the Creature from the Black Lagoon really sell their romance well. You believe from just their eyes that these two care deeply about each other to cross nature’s lines and be, ahem, very intimate with each other. There’s a reason people call this the fish fucking movie.
The reason this relationship works despite everything working against it is because of the performances of the two leads. I have become a cliché myself by saying how difficult acting can be when they take one of the key parts of how you work away but seriously, they didn’t let Hawkins talk and yet she had to lead a romance movie. But simply through the limited use of sign language and her actions, they make her into this incredibly sympathetic lead who is just so likable and hopeful. But there’s a quiet determination under those doe-like eyes as shown when she decides to break the creature out of the facility. Currently, Sally Hawkins is preparing to go to a lot of parties because she is getting all the awards nominations and she deserves every single one of them.
But someone who won’t be getting his tuxedo one for all of these award ceremonies is Doug Jones and that’s a huge shame because he does deserve it. Because like Hawkins, he also is unable to use words and he uses far less sign language. And not only that, he had to get up at an ungodly hour so he can sit in a chair for hours to have extensive, uncomfortable make-up on, do his performance and then finish the day spending hours getting that make-up taken off. It is a truly astonishing performance from Jones because like Hawkins, he makes this monster into an incredibly sympathetic creature despite one of the few things we know about this thing is that it took off Strickland’s fingers. And he does it through all this make-up! That deserves praise too by the way because it’s astonishing work and proof you don’t need to CGI everything, but I also want to take a stand and tell everyone that Jones’ performance shouldn’t be ignored just because you can’t see his real face.
And last, but not least, let’s have our daily praise Michael Shannon day, something that is starting to become tradition. The man is born to be a villain and while he has done good work on the other side of the moral divide, he is much better when he’s evil. This time, he’s not given a villain with the most depth. He’s a Christian who hates the creature because it is not in God’s vision but that’s forgotten after the exposition explaining him at the very beginning of the movie. He’s just this fearsome figure on the edge of the movie that makes everyone very very nervous. In some actor’s hands, this could become a forgettable role and one I’d be complaining about rather than praising. But with Shannon playing him, he is terrifying. He’s this malevolent force who makes you scared anytime he’s on screen simply because he could lose it. It’s another truly brilliant performance in a film full of them.
So are there any issues with this film? Well not really. I’m sure some people will not be able to get on board with the fact this is a woman and a fish man getting it on but I was able to enjoy that because of the way the film makes such a good case for it. And the movie isn’t afraid to take a flight of fancy from time to time. While it was one of my favourite scenes in the movie because of how emotional it was and the quiet way everything had been building up to it, I can see the musical scene being one that divides people. It did get a few giggles which certainly weren’t intended in my cinema screening. So there are a few things which some people won’t like but personally I was a fan when this movie decided to go out there.
If you were thinking that Guillermo Del Toro had lost it, think again. The Shape of Water is a beautiful romance movie, even if the romance is between a woman and a fish man. And the fact the movie includes a scene where a man shoves his finger through a bullet hole on a man’s cheek. That was a bit gross. It features some of the best performances you are going to see all year, performances so good that I didn’t even get to praise how good the movie looks. That is a given though considering Del Toro is directing. This is a fantastic movie and one that will be competing for a place on my end of the year Top 10 list.