The Horror Honeys: You Must Dive Straight Into 'The Shape of Water'

You Must Dive Straight Into 'The Shape of Water'

All photos courtesy of 20th Century Fox
A New Release Review with Monster Honey Sarah

The Shape of Water (2017)

Fairytales are something that never truly leave us. Even if we think we’ve outgrown them, something brings us back. Nobody knows this better than Guillermo del Toro. He has a simple but perfect talent for making the strange come to life and the scary inexplicably beautiful. Therefore it is unsurprising that his latest film, The Shape of Water, is a gorgeous, heartbreaking tale of compassion, love, and the strength of the outsider.

Once upon a time, there was a young woman who had no voice. Elisa (Sally Hawkins) works nights as a cleaner at a government facility. Under the supervision of Colonel Strickland (Michael Shannon) the facility gains a new research subject; a strange amphibious man (Doug Jones), whom Elisa feels very drawn to. As they two become closer, Elisa enlists the help of her co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer) and neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins) to help her free him before the research proves fatal.

That is the face of a lady who has decided she is going to fuck the fish man.
From the moment that The Shape of Water begins, you are immediately transported somewhere special. Even before we get a glimpse of the creature, the mood has a whimsically charming vibe in the way that we see the everyday elements of Elisa’s life and her routine in her apartment over an all-night movie theatre. It means that perhaps unexpectedly, the first thing that comes to mind is Amelie rather than Creature from the Black Lagoon. The second is del Toro’s own Pan’s Labyrinth. Like Pan’s Labyrinth, The Shape of Water revolves around a central female character that feels out of place with the world around her and encounters a strange creature. Both films also feature a backdrop of a political conflict: in Pan’s Labyrinth it was The Spanish Civil War, and here the American Cold War with Russia. The inclusion of a subplot directly involving the Cold War may seem like an odd element, but it has the benefit of grounding the story in the world away from the more magical realism aspects. By also using the setting of early 1960s America, a time in recent memory distinct in its prejudices, del Toro emphasizes his theme of outsiders. Elisa is mute, Giles is gay, and Zelda is black in a time pre-Civil Rights. They do not fit with the classic image of “normality” in that time.

I'm just saying, we are government facility. You'd think we could afford
better lightbulbs.
The creature himself proves to be a kind of an ultimate outsider in that he is not even human, but it is that difference that initially makes Elisa curious about him. Michael Shannon’s Strickland is very much not an outsider; he is particularly shown as the era’s ideal of the American manly alpha male with the house, the car, the beautiful wife, and the perfect little children. Yet, not unlike Pan’s Labyrinth’s Captain Vidal, there is a facade that hides something more monstrous than anything else in the movie, something cruel and relentless. He is a man marked by violence, including a particular piece of body horror that will have you squirming in your seat. In direct contrast, Michael Stuhlberg’s Dr. Hofstetler is capable of more morality and looking at the bigger picture of what the creature represents. It all lends to the fact that this is not a story about the conventional.

It's not the pod from The Fly. She should be okay.
The central core of the movie is the relationship between Elisa and the amphibious man, and both Sally Hawkins and del Toro stalwart Doug Jones do a terrific job of showing this tender blooming connection between the two. Hawkins brings out sweetness, shyness, and a deep loneliness in Elisa, and all without the benefit of dialogue; you have to read it in Hawkins’ elfin face. She and the creature reach out to each other with an unbiased and innocent attraction. The creature’s design is simple, very much inspired by the Universal Gill-Man of Creature from the Black Lagoon, but beautifully detailed in the various shades of blue and green. He is a particular combination of innocent, intelligent, but still with an element of wild danger, and it is wonderful to get to see Doug Jones in what may be the performance of his career.

Find yourself someone who looks at you the way Elisa looks at her fish man
There are so many layers and details to uncover in The Shape of Water that it is an absolute dream to watch. It is gorgeous with perfect use of colour, blue and green obviously playing a main role, and a style that is beautiful even in moments that seem bleak. From Alexandre Desplat’s score to Dan Lausten’s cinematography to, of course, Guillermo del Toro and Vanessa Taylor’s screenplay, there is nothing in this film that does not bring a deep satisfaction and joy, much like a favorite fairytale.

Monster Honey Verdict: 5 amphibious embraces out of 5