From the director of Pan's Labyrinth comes this Oscar-winning film about the Creature From the Black Lagoon in a love story.
We've already seen a similar character in Guillermo del Toro's excellent Hellboy (2004): Abe Sapiens is a gill-man residing in a secret underground facility and capable of eloquent speech. This story, set in 1962, features a less-refined amphibian man freshly plucked from the Amazon (where the natives worshiped him like a god) and now contained at an Area 51-like base.
The strangest thing about this secret place is the ebb and flow of cleaning ladies. One of them, Elisa (Hawkins), who happens to be mute, identifies with the shy, speechless captive. She alone is able to appreciate his humanity, as he in turn sees her. When Elisa learns of the fate in store for the amphibian man, she resolves to save him.
In key respects The Shape of Water resembles Pan's Labyrinth (2006). The fantastic character (in both cases played by Doug Jones) communicates with an ingenue plagued by a militaristic antagonist. Problem is, Pan's Labyrinth is the better film.
Chief among this movie's detractions are certain impossibilities which simply distract, and the annoyance of watching characters make hate-worthy mistakes. Remaining vague to preserve the experience, suffice to say that tap water can't possibly fill a bathroom in the manner here shown. No way, no how. And the water wouldn't just disappear. The damage to the structure would be insurmountable.
We're happy to accept the idea of an amphibian man, but verisimilitude must be maintained within that framework. At one point, the commander of the secret base, Strickland (Shannon, terrifically cast), bursts into a house and starts yelling at a man's wife while the man sits helplessly and watches TV. All this does is inspire anger toward the filmmaking for such startling impossibility.
Slightly worse: forcing words into the mouth of a character. Stickland's explanation for the cheap green candies he eats comes out of nowhere purely to equate the candy with the 1954 B-movie favorite.
In another overcooked bit of fishiness, Strickland suffers a gangrenous wound after trying to torture the creature, and even though people can see and smell the life-threatening health issue, the commander is allowed to just walk around while rotting in order for us to see he's not only metaphorically but also literally rotten. This idea works with hillbillies and lepers, not base commanders.
In spite of the downsides it's a fun movie, well worth watching. Yet whereas Pan's Labyrinth feels legitimately artful and inventive, The Shape of Water seems more commercially-driven.
THE SHAPE OF WATER
Starring Sally Hawkins,
Directed by Guillermo del Toro
Written by Guillermo del Toro, Vanessa Taylor
Runtime 123 minutes
Stewart Kirby writes for
TWO RIVERS TRIBUNE