Dude… Guillermo del Toro. Not fair, life. Not fair at all. I just got finished being hyped over Star Wars, you had to throw in a del Toro movie as well?! Fine! Have it your way! See if I care! Take my money, movie! You had me at hello!
As you can probably guess, I’m a fan of del Toro. The man’s a visual genius with a penchant for great action. He’s one of the most celebrated filmmakers of our generation and his work only seems to get more interesting as time goes on and this film is light years away from being an exception.
The story looks like it’s about this secret government facility and it’s keeping a secret. Specifically, it’s containing an unknown aquatic human-looking sea creature. Kind of looks like the creature from THE CREATURE FROM BLACK LAGOON (1954), or the Mirlurk kings from the Fallout video games. More importantly, it looks like it’s a romance story about this mute woman who is a new recruit there and she and her friends hatch a plan to break it free from the evil dude who’s in charge of the facility, and she and the creature hook up. I can see some people getting weirded out by that, but I play the Mass Effect video games and sex with non-humans doesn’t phase me much.
Here’s the cast. Starring, we have Sally Hawkins (MAUDIE , and upcoming films PADDINGTON 2  and GODZILLA: KING OF MONSTERS ), amazing make-up actor Doug Jones (THE BYE BYE MAN , and the upcoming NOSFERATU ), Michael Shannon (THE CURRENT WAR , MAN OF STEEL , and upcoming films 12 STRONG  and WHAT THEY HAD ), and Octavia Spencer (GIFTED , and the upcoming A KID LIKE JAKE ).
Now for the crew. Directing and co-writing, we have the living legend himself, Guillermo del Toro, known for CRIMSON PEAK (2015), PACIFIC RIM (2013), and PAN’S LABYRINTH (2006). Del Toro’s partner-in-pen is Vanessa Taylor, known for DIVERGENT (2014), HOPE SPRINGS (2012), and the upcoming ALADDIN (2019). Composing the score is Alexandre Desplat, known for SUBURBICON (2017), THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL (2014), THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON (2008), and upcoming films ISLE OF DOGS (2018) and KURSK (2018). The cinematographer is Dan Laustsen, known for JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2 (2017), SILENT HILL (2006), THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN (2003), and the upcoming PROUD MARY (2018). Finally, the editor is Sidney Wolinsky, known for FAR FROM HOME: THE ADVENTURES OF YELLOW DOG (1995), 8 episodes of TV show POWER (2014 – ongoing) and THE SOPRANOS (1999 – 2007).
Overall, I’m pretty excited. It looks like it’s going to have great acting, great visuals, all the building blocks of a great movie.
This is my honest opinion of: THE SHAPE OF WATER
Set in the 1960s. The story follows mute Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins), an custodian employee of a government facility alongside her friend Zelda (Octavia Spencer). One day at work, a big surprise is coming and the facility will be keeping an unknown creature in a special holding tank that looks like it’s meant for fish. As it turns out, that’s not too far off the mark. The creature is a human-looking amphibian creature (Doug Jones). It can’t speak, but it’s intelligent. It’s being brought in by the man who captured him, an especially awful man named Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon), who seems to particularly hate the creature. But when Elisa is alone with the creature, the two connect and she even manages to teach him some sign language. As the two become closer, she becomes determined to take him away from his imprisonment and set him free when she learns that military issued the order to terminate him.
If you’re a fan of del Toro, you’re in for a special treat. This might just be one the best films of his career.
While the performances are amazing across the board, let’s take a minute to talk about Michael mother fucking Shannon. Holy shit, this might be the most despicable villain I’ve seen this year and Shannon is terrific. Strickland is a disgusting pig. There’s not one scene that he’s in that isn’t trying to convince you that he’s a horrible excuse of life. He doesn’t piss in the urinal the entire time, nor does he wash his hands when he’s done, despite being given a wet towel by the female cleaning staff (Elisa and Zelda), all because he thinks it’s a weakness in character. He washed his hands before doing his business and refuses to wash after. Granted, he didn’t aim his dick, so… yeah. But more than that, he’s racist, sexist… fucking christ, the guy has sex with his wife after his fingers were bitten off by the fish-man, his hand starts bleeding, his wife informs him of that, then he holds that same bloodied hand over her mouth to shut her up as he fucks her. Yeah, when I say that Strickland is a disgusting pig, I really wasn’t kidding. One of my favorite subtle inclusions to his character is that he reads self-help books, specifically one that’s like, “The Power of Positive Thinking,” and even tells General Hoyt (Nick Searcy) that he can’t operate with a negative-mindset. Ha! Pussy pansie, it’s as if he himself needs to convince himself that he’s a happy individual. It’s also really clever how they use the setting of the 60’s to “excuse” Strickland’s behavior and way of thinking. Like, he’s not just some asshole in a position of authority. No, he’s also a product of the times and loves it. Misogyny, racism, all bountiful in America during those years, so looking down on the fish-man isn’t exclusive to just him. he does it with everyone who he deems lower than his status. This is the perfect example of a villain I love to hate.
But enough about the jerk-face supreme, let’s about the good guys. Thankfully, they’re a different kind of interesting.
Hawkins is quickly becoming that actress, the kind of talent where the name would be enough to sell me a ticket, no matter what the movie is. She is absolutely perfect in her role as Elisa. She barely says a word in the flick, and even when she does it’s… out of place, but still kind of perfectly executed that it doesn’t really matter. All of her acting in is in her expressions and she’s got boat-loads of charm and charisma. She has the most adorable smile, her love of dance and music, that she goes to such extreme measures to be nice to the fish-man that she eventually falls for, her unshakable determination to free him, it’s absolutely wonderful to see her own the screen. And who knew she was such a good dancer to boot? And she’s no mary sue, either. She has her breaking point when she’s interrogated by Strickland and spells out “fuck you” in sign. It’s not only hilarious, but it’s bad-ass.
And now for the man himself, Doug Jones. Once again, the man doesn’t disappoint. If I were to hazard a guess, Jones was wearing a body suit and CGI was digitally inserted to touch it up, as well as the blinking eyes, but the facial expressions are all him. At first, I was drawing comparisons, thinking this is basically a beauty and the beast kind of story. It is, but there’s so much that sets it apart, and it’s the details in this relationship that help distinguish it. Neither the fish-man, nor Elisa can talk or communicate. She can sign, but the fish-man can’t speak at all. But he’s intelligent enough to learn how to sign as well. For the record, yes, you will learn how to say “egg,” “music,” and “cleaning” in sign by the end of the movie. But more than that, their connection is built up so well and organically. One of the elements I appreciated about this film was how the fish-man’s perception was presented. I could see any other film making the character hate all humans because one was a particular jack-ass to him, and the female would have to try and convince him that not all humans are like that. They don’t do that with this character. In fact, he only seems to dislike Strickland. Everyone else he seems to either ignore, accept, or even like. It’s that subtlety in detail to his character that I really enjoy.
Other things that I adored were the music. I love jazz and, when they’re done well, show tunes. Never fails to put a smile on my face. The design of Baltimore is gorgeous. Anything filmed in under water is breathtaking. Knowing del Toro, these scenes were practically and not CG, outside of the touch-ups to the fish-man suit. Maybe that’s not the case, but either way, they’re ocular sugar that I can get a rush off of all day long and never get bored.
For those of you that have been online enough and know anything about this movie, it’s likely gotten around that there is a sex scene between Elisa and the fish-man. Let me tell you right now… yes, and no. If you’re in that mindset, “Ew! No! I don’t want to see fish-man penis thrusting in anyone!” then fear not, that never happens on screen. There’s plenty of nudity from Hawkins and some blurred out masturbation in the bathtub, but the sex scenes between Elisa and the fish-man are off screen. The worst is seeing them holding each other, essentially hugging, while she’s naked. No fish-man penis in the movie. So quit worrying.
I suppose if I had one nitpick is that sometime between the budding romance between Elisa and the fish-man and rescuing him from his confinement, things sort of drag a bit. This isn’t really enough to say that I’ll dock it much, but I did find myself dosing off and wishing the story would progress a little faster. It’s a brief moment and once the story reaches that point, it shifts back into high gear and doesn’t let up.
Also, I think the ending is a bit of a cop-out. The scars on Elisa’s neck were gills the entire time? This whole movie, we’ve been led to believe that it was an injury from her biological parents that abandoned her, which caused her to be mute in the first place. She gets shot by Strickland in the end and is saved when the fish-man brings her into the water and saves her by turning those scars into gills. I don’t know, that seemed a little too… out there, even for this film.
But I know what someone’s going to tell me. This story is technically told in a flashback by another character, and probably telling it like it’s a fairy tale. That does seem to be a pretty big theme in this movie, books and such. Hell, I’m pretty sure one of the taglines for the film says something like, “A fairy tale for a troubled time.” In retrospect, maybe I shouldn’t have taken that moment that literal. If that’s the case, maybe I shouldn’t take the story as a whole too literal. For all we know, Giles (Richard Jenkins) is telling this story about romance in a time of segregation and inequality to a bunch of kids and using the fish-man as a fantastical detail to spur the imagination. As it stands, if this last minute of the movie doesn’t bother anyone, or even says that they like it and gives a more nuanced reason why the fish-man and Elisa share a connection and romance, and that she really was a fish-person herself in some fashion, then I won’t stand and argue. I do admit that these are nitpicks and I’ve never claimed to have the capacity for complex ideas. Regardless, I didn’t connect with that last minute.
Overall, this movie is fantastic. Wonderful visuals, romantic as hell, terrific performances from everyone on screen, what more can you expect from the visionary genius that is del Toro? High recommendation from me. Drop what you’re doing and give it a shot. It’s well worth the time, money, and effort. I don’t know if I would go so far as to buy this on Blu-Ray, but I would be open to seeing it in theaters twice. This fairy tale for a troubled time is worth the fantastic and romantic dive.
My honest rating for THE SHAPE OF WATER: a strong 4/5