I spent a lot of time sitting on a collection of posts because I’ve been so busy with university. But, if you’ve been here a while you’d know that I went to the BFI London Film Festival last October and had an absolute blast. I had the privilege to watch some films that won’t even be out until the next year. And this is one of them. Spoiler warning. Also, go see this film when it comes out.
dir. Guillermo del Toro
Starring Sally Hawkins, Doug Jones, Michael Shannon, Octavia Spencer
I hadn’t heard a lot about this film other than the fact that it could be a Creature from the Black Lagoon sequel (or a Hellboy prequel, as my brother kindly misled). I went in blind, and managed to get a great seat in the back of theatre. The screening took place at the Odeon in Leicester Square, at 8.45 in the morning. The things I will do for Guillermo.
Just a quick overview, The Shape of the Water is your sci-fi fairytale set in 1962 Baltimore in the midst of the Cold War. It follows a mute woman named Elisa (Sally Hawkins), who works as a cleaner in a government facility and falls in love with a Black Lagoon-like Amphibian Man (Doug Jones) that the US have found in South America.
I loved this film. Blown the fuck away. The feeling it left me with after it had ended was the same feeling I would get after watching a musical. Actually, there were a couple musical numbers or two that I thought were stunning. There was one towards the end with actual singing, but the other ‘numbers’ were scenes with music somehow involved organically or set to the rhythm or melody of the score. Alexandre Desplat scored the film, which would explain why it felt so enchanting.
A fairytale, sub-musical from the mind of Guillermo del Toro. You know it’s about to go down.
Let’s not forget the Elephant in the Room: bestiality. Which I’ve only discovered now is spelt with best- and not beast-. Oh, well. Our heroine, Elisa, actually goes on to have a deep romantic and sexual relationship with the creature, after following the whole “teaching an alien how to be human” arc. With the help of her neighbour Giles (Richard Jenkins), her friend Zelda (Octavia Spencer) , and doctor/Russian spy Dr. Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg), Elisa helps her lover escape execution by the hands of the US government and the big bad Michael Shannon.
I love it when Michael Shannon plays bad guys. He has the face for it.
The film was set during the Cold War, so another conflict within the film is the espionage and intelligence race between the US and the Soviet Union. What I liked about the take on this conflict, is that del Toro portays the communist side of the war as equally as he does the capitalist. A lot of films set during this era tend to “side” with the US and their quest to keep their way of life, but this film manages to show how you can put your humanity above whatever ideology you’ve aligned with.
The colour palette and production design aided this almost steampunk aquatic look, there was this industrial feel to it, with a little Disney-like wonder and rhythm. Blues, greens, and teal pretty much dominated most of the film, with the occasional, and in retrospect, poignant reds like blood and apartment interiors; combatting the cold scaly amphibian man aesthetic with human warmth.
Not to be fake-deep or reach-y, but the water was a character in itself. So much of the film was driven if not at least framed by the presence of water in many shapes and forms. The opening sequence was incredible; it set up the world of the film as well as introduced us to Eliza and her environment by plunging it underwater. The sequence of events in her morning also have water as a constant throughout; her jacking off in the bathtub full of water, boiling her eggs in water, the rainwater on the way to work. There was nearly always some water related incident and I loved that. Hence the title, I assume. Water can act as support or act as a catalyst. Water is waited on and waited for. Water was gentle, but it could also be overwhelming. The versatility of the water as a device was such a clever way to carry theme throughout the film.
It’s a fairytale. It’s Beauty and the Beast but with water and commies. That’s an oversimplification. Though it does share elements and archetypes with the aforementioned fairy tale, it’s truly the heroine that shines. She’s a kind soul, clearly empowered and in-control of her sexuality, she’s intelligent, and takes initiative throughout the whole film. There’s a lovely musical number towards the end that reaffirms how much a) I love musicals and I miss them terribly, prompting me to plan to watch a few over the coming weeks and b) I need Guillermo del Toro to direct an entire musical. I need that in my life. Perhaps not Pacific Rim: The Musical, but hopefully someday these dreams will come true. I keep comparing the film to a musical because even the film’s structure had rhythm to it.
I liked that I managed to clock Eliza’s scars to be gills nearly right out of the gate. I love that little detail so much.
Detail. That’s another thing. This film was rich with detail; from time-period research, character meals and living spaces, and that fucking lab was amazing.
I’ve been singing nothing but praise for this film for the last month now. It truly has a special place in my heart. Though many viewers and critics take issue with the bestiality aspect as part of the plot, I think what del Toro wanted to get across was how love can be pure and wholesome and still overcome a great evil (i.e. Michael Shannon, or even the people the Doctor were working for) and that humanity, where ever it lies, should be given the chance.
Don’t even get me started on the special effects. I was awestruck throughout; not knowing what was CGI and what was practical. I’ll look it up after I’ve published this post and let you know.
When you get the chance, please go and see this film. It’ll leave you with a little whimsy and maybe a little hope. And maybe the urge to re-watch The Creature from the Black Lagoon with a little more empathy.
The Shape of the Water graces UK cinemas on February 16th, 2018.
You took way too long with this piece. And the pieces to come. It’s alright, you’ve been busy with school. I’m learning to cut myself some slack, because apparently (and this is only according to my friend Andrea) I don’t know how to. I think for reviews we’re going to aim for a good 900-1000 words. Or 800 if you’re in a hurry to post. Don’t rush. But don’t dilly dally either.
I like this one. More to come.