Hello and welcome to the movie blog of author John DeFrank - FilmZ and Guy Sobriquet Malone - Researcher

The Shape of Water

The Shape of Water review by FilmZ

Guillermo del Toro's most acclaimed movie since Pan's Labyrinth is several things: a fable, an espionage film, a dark satire of the Cold War, a critical look at the hatred and fear of "otherness" in America in the 1960s--and, for the most part, it all comes together.  The screenplay by del Toro and Vanessa Taylor (though it was recently hit by accusations of plagiarism) easily could have become a mess, but under his artistic vision--augmented by Dan Laustsen's Cinematography and Alexander Desplat's dreamlike score--it comes to the screen a romantic fairy tale, darkened by moody atmospherics.

Elisa (Sally Hawkins) is a mute cleaning woman who lives in a rundown apartment above a movie theater.  Her neighbor, Giles (Richard Jenkins), underemployed and in the closet, is a sweet, sad soul who is her best friend outside of work.  At work, fellow custodian Zelda (Octavia Spencer) looks after her as they clean a government facility in Baltimore.  It is 1962, the height of the Cold War, and paranoia runs rampant.  One day, a government agent named Strickland (Michael Shannon) shows up, wielding an electric cattle prod, accompanied by a sealed tank, containing an amphibian hominid (Doug Jones) that had been captured in the Amazon.  The creature is to be studied by a team of scientists, headed by Dr. Hoffstetler (the ubiquitous Michael Stuhlbarg), and staff is warned not to discuss anything they see, lest the Russians find out.

Elisa is fascinated; she feels a personal connection with the creature from the start, and she is horrified by Strickland's sadistic treatment of him.  Equally fascinated is Dr. Hoffstetler, albeit from a scientific perspective, and sympathetic, too.  He sees the growing fondness shared between Elisa and the creature.  During her lunch breaks, she brings him eggs and begins to communicate with him through sign language (don't think too much about how it is that a cleaning lady is permitted unlimited private access to the biggest government secret).  A bond forms between our beauty and beast.  Then a general arrives and demands progress with the "asset," and Strickland decides the only quick way to get answers is through vivisection, despite the emphatic objections of Dr. Hoffstetler, and as he tries to decide a course of action, Elisa has already swung into hers, with the complicity of Giles and Zelda.  Here, the film flows into thriller mode with moments of eroticism, some violence, and several twists we won't discuss here.

The Shape of Water takes several detours from Elisa's main storyline, mostly to lift the rock of the unsightly underside of what we remember as the halcyon days of the Kennedy years, a side that has made a recent resurgence.  We see Strickland's schizophrenic life as a suburban father of two--although he is equally strange but less vicious at home.  Giles excitedly takes Elisa to a pie shop he believes to be as all-American as, well, pie, only to find the deep-seated evangelical bigotry beneath the homey ambiance.  Dr. Hofftetler's private life is filled with secrets and loneliness.  With each shift in tone and mood, Del Toro makes clever choices in his color palette: During the main storyline, featuring Elisa, shades of green dominate, as if the creature has brought his world with him; outside the lab, in Strickland's and Giles' subplots, the screen is suffused with pastels, an unnatural veneer covering society's ills; when we follow Dr. Hoffstetler the movie takes on a film noir look.

As we know by now, TSoW has been nominated for a near-record 13 Oscars.  How many it wins may be influenced by how the plagiarism accusations pan out.  It is a gorgeous film, though not necessarily for everyone's tastes.  The cast is marvelous--rarely will we see a better group of supporting actors the quality of Jenkins, Stuhlbarg, and Shannon--and del Toro brings out the best in them.  When Serfing Dude, Captain HE, and Guy S. Malone, Researcher, exited the theater, they acknowledged seeing a work of art, but as much as they appreciated it, they questioned how much they liked it.  We felt much the same, but in the days since, and as we write this, it has risen in our affection.  TSoW is not as accessible as Lady Bird, that's for certain, but it is nonetheless a must see.
8.5 out of 10 on an Entertainment Scale
8.5 out of 10 on an Awards Scale (we acknowledge its many nominations, but other films and other factors may chip away at the number of wins).


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