For most of us seeing something like the creature in The Shape of Water would have us at first frightened and then intrigued unable to draw our eyes away from such a bizarre scaly slimeball. It’s must be similar to that of Melania Trump when she wakes up each morning beside The Donald. Guillermo del Toro’s 1950’s set The Shape of Water has much the same effect with his mute protagonist Sally Hawkins intrigued by the creature unable to communicate with his human captors lead by a sadistic Michael Shannon who bring him to a military compound where she works as a cleaner.
Like many fairy tales which are often extremely macabre in origin this is, from the word go, not a family film starting as it does with a full frontal nude shot of Sally Hawkins (Paddington 2) taking a bath – it’s a shot that sets the film as being for adults which it ought not necessarily be the case. Hawkins is a mute cleaner who along with her friend and colleague Zelda (Octavia Spencer) work together at a top secret compound where the creature is first bought entombed in what looks like an iron lung. Though this is fantasy there is issue to be taken with the fact that her cleaner seems to be working there all the time with unfettered access to laboratories where the creature is a top secret military project. It’s a bit like a contract cleaner doing the occasional day at Area 51 and it might explain why one of the scientists is unveiled as being a Russian spy.
In the creature Hawkins finds a kindred spirit both able to communicate only through sign language. Regular Guillermo Del Toro collaborator Doug Jones plays the creature and he excels at these otherworldly and fantastical beings as seen in Hellboy 1 & 2 as well as Pan’s Labyrinth. His creature is kept chained in a purpose built pool where she befriends him feeding him boiled eggs. It’s a treat that she gives him on a daily basis so it stretches credibility that a constant diet of hard boiled eggs doesn’t turn the pool into a constantly bubbling spa pool. Both isolated by their lack of speech they form a close bond of what initially is friendship but develops into love. It’s perhaps this aspect that it veers maybe a little too queasily for some into bestiality….. yes, really…. though it’s a scene where Hawkins is once again fully nude the act thankfully is never seen and is alluded to with some locker room talk between her and Zelda.
It’s Michael Shannon (Nocturnal Animals) always watchable and again playing to type as the brutal agent failing to restrain his violent temperament towards anyone who should cross him yet sucking up to the military top brass in charge of the creature project. It’s Shannon as the pill popping, candy crunching racist agent that’s at the other end of the spectrum to Hawkins humane and endearing mute that is the conflict at the centre of the film and Shannon has most of the films dialogue. Del Toro has cast well with both leads but also with his supporting cast with Richard Jenkins as the lonely artist neighbour who colludes with Hawkins to help her effect the escape of the creature before Shannon kills it. Equally good is Michael Stuhlberg as the scientist who wants the creature kept alive realising its uniqueness – though it’s one of the films shortcomings that the military wouldn’t do away with such a creature so quickly.
The Shape of Water has del Toro’s stamp all over it, the fact that a huge number of the opening credits seem to have his name becomes a bit of an over kill with his credit for writing, producing, directing and in case you were unsure it’s,.’A film by Guillermo del Toro’ so yes Guillermo we get it…..it’s your film!!! The film has all his usual themes from his use of colour to its use of, at times, wince inducing violence especially in the third act where scenes with cats, bullet wounds and fingers will have you cringing and reaffirming that this is not a film for kids. It’s also a wonder that he has included moments like this as they are a little out of keeping with what is in essence, a fantasy.
The Shape of Water has already been nominated for a huge number of awards and it’s clear to see why Hollywood loves it so as this is a film that loves old school 40 and 50’s Hollywood glamour. From its production values (Hawkins’ flat is above an Art Deco cinema showing classic 50’s films) to its characters watching old black and white TV shows and even launching into its, albeit surreal, song and dance sequence and the whole film is indebted to The Creature from the Black Lagoon. It’s yet another nod to the director love and homage to 1950’s. Though Del Toro’s 2006 masterpiece, Pan’s Labyrinth, won 3 Oscars (Cinematography, Art Direction and Make up ) The Shape of Water has a massive 13 nominations and its self reverential love of Hollywood should ensure the Academy loves it enough for the film to sweep up at awards time.
Here’s the trailer…….