“Though it didn’t exactly feel like a Guillermo del Toro film, it did have some of the hallmarks connecting it to his previous works.”
I recently saw The Shape of Water and it was simultaneously exactly what I had expected, and nothing at all like what I had expected. There is truly a lot to unpack with this movie, so if I end up rambling I do apologize; I’m just trying to cover as much as possible. So the main thing you need to know about The Shape of Water is that it is the latest Guillermo del Toro film, and unlike his more recent efforts The Shape of Water actually looked like (at least from the trailers) a Guillermo del Toro film. By this I mean it had an air of whimsy and mystery, as well as a darker side. The film is about a woman, Elisa, who is a cleaner at a government facility that houses a weird fish-man creature that she befriends. Saying any more than that would spoil the movie, so I’ll just leave it there.
So despite the trailers getting me excited for another proper del Toro film, after watching The Shape of Water I couldn’t help but feel as though it was an outlier to the rest of del Toro’s filmography. The pieces are all there: weird creature, interesting main character, asshole villain; but the way they fit together didn’t feel like it should. I think part of this is the fact that The Shape of Water, unlike del Toro’s other films, casts a wide net and tries its best to show the entire world. Usually with del Toro films the worlds presented are small, and therefore chock-full of weird fairytale creatures and whimsical moments; but in The Shape of Water those parts are very small. We are shown a world that is very much like our own, and its only on a smaller scale that you can see all of the weird shit going on. But don’t get me wrong, when you get down to that scale its impossible to miss all of the del Toro quirks.
The Shape of Water to me felt like a movie wherein Guillermo del Toro was playing chicken with everyone involved; the studio, the actors, and even the audience. While watching The Shape of Water I can’t tell you how many times I though to myself “There’s no way it’s going to go there”, only to have the film not only go there, but then outdo itself minutes later. It felt like del Toro wanted to make the weirdest thing he could, without anyone stepping in and altering it. Even forgetting about the whole ‘fish man’ thing and the singular instances like the weird dance number the film had, things like the amount of sex in the film was very strange to me. Everything felt so sped up, as though del Toro didn’t want to give you time to prepare for what was about to happen. It was almost like every idea that popped into his head was committed to the page, and this isn’t a bad thing but when compared to his other films it does stick out.
And going back to my point about how The Shape of Water features a ‘real world’, this is also the most mature Guillermo del Toro film that I’ve seen. Of course we can again discuss the amount of sex in the film, but this goes beyond that to me. The Shape of Water was a very adult movie, more so than his other films, with its copious amounts of cursing and inclusion of some very adult topics like sexuality and racism. And these reasons once again cement the feeling that The Shape of Water is different from other del Toro films. Sure his other works have had real backdrops, mainly the Spanish Civil War, but those topics are so far removed from us today that they didn’t have the same impact as some of the stuff touched on in The Shape of Water. But this is kind of a double-edged sword becasue although it took away from the ‘del Toro’ nature of the film, it also presented a world that was the most alive that I’ve seen in his films. Being able to relate to these problems so closely opened up the doors and allowed me to be transported into this world and forget that I was watching a movie.
And something else that felt out of place to me in The Shape of Water was the comedy. I’m not saying that Guillermo del Toro can’t be funny, but this is hands-down the funniest film that he’s ever done. And that’s honestly where a lot of the forgotten whimsy is made up, in the ridiculousness of the characters. And this is once again a reason that The Shape of Water didn’t feel like a del Toro film to me, becasue if you look at the comedy in the film alongside the real-world issues that were tackled you start to get into the territory of people like The Coen Brothers; and I would be amiss if I didn’t mention that The Shape of Water felt like it was at least written by them. But enough about how The Shape of Water didn’t feel like a Guillermo de Toro movie, becasue it was and I’m just going to have to live with that, let’s talk about what was great about the movie.
Honestly this is not a short list; in my opinion every aspect of The Shape of Water was immaculate. Let’s start with the basics and discuss the performances in the film. Once again Doug Jones gives a performance that makes me question whether or not he is human with his wonderful portrayal of this weird fish dude. It would have been so easy to make a CGI character, but in my opinion that would have removed some of the charm that the film currently holds. And what’s a Guillermo del Toro film without Doug Jones? Pacific Rim is the answer. Leading the film we have Sally Hawkins playing the mute Elisa Esposito, and doing a wonderful job. Without speech Hawkins had to convey so much emotion with her body language and facial expressions, and she nailed it. It’s not what I would call an ‘Oscar-worthy’ performance, only becasue her character was written as a kind of blank slate, but she did a fantastic job carrying the film. And of course there are numerous other actors who do amazing jobs filling out this world and making it feel as real (and quirky) as possible, but to name them all would take too long. But don’t worry, I didn’t forget about my man Michael Shannon. It goes without saying at this point that Michael Shannon once again delivered an absolutely phenomenal performance as the film’s villain, Strickland. As always his presence is felt whenever he is on screen, and he commands every single scene that he is a part of. I don’t think I will ever tire of Michael Shannon’s performances, and if there is ever a time that I do something has obviously gone horribly wrong and someone should do me the kindness of ending my suffering.
Of course I feel it is my duty to also talk about the direction in The Shape of Water, and how it managed to create a world that was realistic but also just a tad dream-like. The Shape of Water holds a lot of relevance in the colour green, both in mentions in the film as well as the colour-palate of the film itself. What this means I don’t really know, but I know it looked real pretty. I can only assume that the colour-palate portion of this has to do with the world resembling what the ocean looks like, with most things being shades of green or teal as though they are being seen under water. Either way it created a beautiful atmosphere that really held onto that fleeting ‘del Toro’ feel. The cinematography in The Shape of Water was also really fucking pretty, and the way that a lot of the shots were composed were stunning. There are two examples that come to mind presently, the first being the opening of the film where the main character’s apartment is under water and the camera effortlessly floats around really setting the tone for the rest of the film, and the second being just before the aforementioned dance number where all of the lights and colours fade and all that is left is a spotlight on the main character. These two shots, as well as many others that currently escape me, really brought to life this strange environment.
And the last thing I want to discuss, probably the most impactful thing in The Shape of Water, is the music. With the main character being mute, there is a lot of empty auditory space. Usually music in movies has to take a back-seat to dialogue, but when there is no dialogue you get to see what is truly possible. The music in The Shape of Water truly felt like its own character to me. The way that it controlled the feel of the movie was masterful, and the music itself was breathtakingly beautiful. It managed to compliment as well as steer the feel of the film, and constantly leave me in awe of what I was hearing. My words can’t do it justice so if you have the time I would definitely recommend checking out the score. I know that it will be in my rotation for a very long time.
Overall The Shape of Water was a very interesting movie. Though it didn’t exactly feel like a Guillermo del Toro film, it did have some of the hallmarks connecting it to his previous works. I felt that the film did a good job of tackling some mature subject matter, as well as presenting a story that was engaging as well as entertaining (with a solid helping of creeping me out). Everything from the performances to the score were done beautifully, and it all came together to create a very solid movie.
I give The Shape of Water an A