Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Review: The Shape of Water

The Shape Of Water
Cert: 15 / 123 mins / Dir. Guillermo del Toro / Trailer

Luckily, I didn’t need to study my calendar to know it was still January as The Rule-of-4*1 held strong throughout my viewing of Guillermo del Toro’s surreal, fantasy-romance, The Shape of Water. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Working as a cleaner for (ostensibly) an aeronautics company in 1950s America, the quirky Elisa (Sally Hawkins) becomes aware of a subject in their subterranean research-laboratories - a humanoid sea-creature, supposedly of Mexican origin. Our heroine develops a relationship with the mysterious mute stranger and finds herself falling in love, and as her employers’ methods and motives become clearer, she hatches a plot to liberate him with her friend and neighbour Giles (Richard Jenkins). But the path of true love never did run smooth, and more than one agency is interested in this aquatic asset…

Now, if you’ve read the word “quirky” in that first paragraph and thought ’oh right, I see...’, then you’ll have some understanding of my reaction watching the film. If the Q-word is going to be a problem for you, good luck with The Shape of Water. As the central character, there’s scant escape from Elisa's enforced oddness, and even less relief from del Toro’s apparent self-indulgence in bringing his and Vanessa Taylor’s screenplay to life..

Don't get me wrong, there is much (much) to admire in here. A solid story, great performances and fantastic visuals and creature-effects. But on a character-level, the film feels shamelessly overwritten, like there’s been no editorial process, or anyone leaning in with ’should we maybe tone that down a bit?’*2. For the most part, the personalities of the characters we meet stay fixed throughout, with little in the way of development*3. Ultimately I couldn’t overcome the neatness of the story*4, even if it is framed as a fairy-tale*5.

I imagine you'll love it.

The Shape Of Water is basically a greatest-hits medley of Amelie, E.T. and Nightbreed.

There. I said it.

So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
Pan's Labrynth.

Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
It probably is, if you aren't me.

Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
There will be re-watch value here, albeit in a 'have to be in the right frame of mind' sort of way.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
It's not.

Will we disagree about this film in a pub?

Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?

Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: This film's got that that Naboo village-girl from out of The Phantom Menace in it.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 Whereby every movie I've seen in this first month of the year (which hasn't had a Disney stamp on it), whether that be an allegorical tale of miniaturisation, the study of a nation uniting against fascism or just Liam Neeson punching people on a train, has been met with a resounding shrug of my shoulders and a final awarded score of 4/7. Only Coco (which is technically a movie from 2017) and Star Wars (which is definitely a movie from 2017) have punctured my bubble of misanthropic apathy in January.
[ BACK ]

*2 Because it's not enough for the young guy in the café to be revealed as a homophobe, he also has to be shown as a massive racist IN THE SAME SCENE. This guy is all the wrong, DO YOU SEE? That section in particular feels like sketching a nicely rounded character-subplot, then throwing it in the bin because you're worried it's taking too much away from the rest of the picture. [ BACK ]

*3 With the slight exception of Michael Stuhlbarg's research scientist. Although what we learn about him still doesn't really change the character's behaviour or the audience's perception of it. [ BACK ]

*4 The early stages of the relationship between Elisa and the creature seem almost skipped over, whereas other movies would have gone on a detour of cross-species exploration. Here it's just 'would you like a hard-boiled egg?', 'oh, yes please.'. We have to assume the beautifully utilised sign-language has been picked up rapidly as we go from a one-word basic to pretty much full communication with next to no on-screen progress. And this is also apparently taking place in a top-secret laboratory which is not under CCTV surveillance (otherwise Elisa would have been removed instantly, lunch-break or not), while the loading dock in the back yard gets its own constantly monitored camera-feed. And don't even get me started on how smoothly Dimitri's own plans for the creature are altered to seamlessly fit in with Elisa's, apparently with little or no actual discussion. I have no problem believing a sea-monster exists, but do not mess around on the admin, Guillermo. [ BACK ]

*5 SPOILERS: Highlight-to-read And the guy next to me (an adult human old enough to have seen other films) did a little gasp of realisation at 'that reveal moment' with the scars on Elisa's neck. It was all I could do to not take him to one side during the closing credits and be like "Seriously, though? Mate, that's been relentlessly telegraphed since the beginning of the film. It's an early-tell which explains the rest of the film before it's happened. The film's about water. You don't need a masters-degree in H.P. Lovecraft to see where that was going…" [ BACK ]

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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