The Shape of Water (2017) Words

Gay Times Magazine - - Film - Bren­dan Mar­shall

Vi­sion­ary direc­tor Guillermo del Toro de­liv­ers his most emo­tion­ally re­ward­ing and vis­ually ar­rest­ing film since Pan's Labyrinth, serv­ing up a thrilling adult fairy tale of two out­siders who save each other from iso­la­tion and de­spair, be­fore ul­ti­mately fall­ing in love. This love story's USP? The lead­ing man is a fan­tas­ti­cal am­phibi­ous-man akin to the Crea­ture from the Black La­goon, mak­ing for a 'Si­lent Beauty and the Sea Beast'.

At the heart of the film is a lu­mi­nous Sally Hawkins, an Os­car nom­i­nee for Blue Jas­mine, who here plays Elisa, a mute night jan­i­tor at a se­cret govern­ment lab­o­ra­tory in Cold War era Amer­ica. We learn that Elisa sur­vived a vi­cious at­tack as a child which left her throat scarred and her voice for­ever gone. She now lives a life of care­ful rou­tine – boil­ing eˆs, shoe shop­ping, mop­ping floors and fer­vent mas­tur­ba­tion (this is not a fairy tale for the whole fam­ily). Side­lined into si­lence, her days pass by in lone­li­ness. That is un­til one dark night when her life is turned up­side down by the ar­rival of 'the As­set', the films "mon­strous" am­phibi­ous male lead, played beau­ti­fully by Del Toro's go-to crea­ture col­lab­o­ra­tor Doug Jones (Hell­boy, Pan's Labyrinth, Crim­son Peak). This be­ing a fairy tale, of course the true mon­ster of the film is Michael Shan­non, as the men­ac­ing Colonel Strick­land, the As­set's cap­tor and tor­turer.

Elisa's only al­lies are her neigh­bour, a love­able gay artist, with a pas­sion for movie mu­si­cals (Richard Jenk­ins); her ever-pro­tec­tive co-worker (Oc­tavia Spencer) who fills their nights with a con­stant stream of chat­ter and ob­ser­va­tion; and a sym­pa­thetic sci­en­tist with a dan­ger­ous se­cret (Michael Stuhlbarg). Set in a time rife with in­tol­er­ance, the films only weak­ness is its lack of depth in ex­plor­ing the so­cial cri­tiques of sex­u­al­ity, gen­der and race sur­round­ing th­ese char­ac­ters. Although won­der­fully acted by all three, they serve mostly as tokens of "oth­er­ness" and to fa­cil­i­tate the As­sets es­cape and our lover's in­evitable union.

Hawkins and Jones are to be com­mended for their ten­derly emo­tive, word­less per­for­mances which are both en­gag­ing and de­light­ful. Al­most en­tirely ar­tic­u­lated through Hawkin's ex­pres­sive eyes and con­sid­ered chore­og­ra­phy, a sort of pan­tomime; their rich per­for­mances are el­e­vated by Paul D. Auster­berry's gothic/steam­punk pro­duc­tion de­sign and Alexan­dre De­s­plat's dreamy score. Del Toro's unique vis­ual flour­ish is all over this, from its gor­geous sets, to its el­e­gant colour pal­ette, to the in­tri­cately ren­dered crea­ture (He glows!).

Like most beloved fairy tales, this films var­i­ous twists and turns go ex­actly where you ex­pect them to go (per­haps only with more nu­dity and gore than ex­pected), but none of that de­tracts from the strange and beau­ti­fully grown-up world Del Toro has lov­ingly crafted.

It doesn’t quite have the politi­cal res­o­nance of Pan’s Labyrinth, it’s more of a politi­cal al­le­gory about love and fear - an ode to clas­sic cin­ema and crea­ture fea­tures, com­bin­ing a tragic love af­fair with a won­der­fully retro style that packs a sur­pris­ingly emo­tional punch. An­chored by Hawkins heart-break­ing per­for­mance, I have no doubts this will be a se­ri­ous con­tender come Os­car time, with Ms. Hawkins a Best Ac­tress fron­trun­ner.

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