As far back as I can remember, I don’t think I have ever seen a monster movie that was an authentic love story as its main tone throughout the film. Well, now I can cross that off the list. While there is probably more out there with the same tone, Guillermo del Toro writes and directs a touching and social satire story surrounding the unique and different kind of people as they struggle to find their place in a world that looks at them different and navigate love along the way.
Out of all the famous iconic monsters or creatures Del Toro could have used, he chose the gil man. This is a very interesting choice because we don’t see much surrounding the monster as the vampire, Frankenstein’s monster, and the werewolf is more popular to use in a film. Synopsis provided by Imdb.com, In a 1960s research facility, a mute janitor forms a relationship with an aquatic creature. That mute janitor is played by talented actress Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine, Godzilla 2014) and the aquatic creature is played by the infamous Doug Jones (Hocus Pocus, Hellboy) who is known to cover his face with makeup to make any fantastical creature come to life and he just brings that creation to life on screen so perfectly every time.
I thought this movie was great and didn’t try to come off as a terrifying horror movie either. It stuck to its core mission and show you that love and friendship can form in many different ways. Del Toro is always good with giving us a visual masterpiece that sometimes words don’t even need to be spoken for you to be in tune with what is happening on screen. You are hooked on just watching the expressions of the characters and how they interact with each other. Given that the mute janitor Elisa is mute, we see her communicate using sign language and body language. This movie does a great job in showing that her inability to speak doesn’t hinder her in everyday life and she is just as sufficient as anyone else in the film. Those closes to her, neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins) and co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer) know sign language and communicate with her just fine in the movie which I think is great. Those close to you most likely will know the language even if they are not family. I like that way that when using captions to convey language on screen is used differently all the time. The captions are revealed in the middle of the screen and close to the character speaking or in this case signing them to make sure your eyes are focused where they need to be and you don’t miss anything.
The friendship that you see form between Elisa and the creature is nice to watch. It almost happens instantly as both of them pretty much feel alone and misunderstood. I was surprised to see that the creature was so opened to Elisa’s attempts to connect with the creature but I guess you can say that the creature could sense that she was of no danger to him and also in that acceptance you find out right away that the creature is not just some meat eating killing machine.
Combined with a wonderful score of Alexandre Desplat music you get a delightful movie and in some parts suspenseful movie that has you routing for the underdog to succeed. Aside from the love story that is being shown as its central focus, you are also given a glimpse as to what its like for anyone who doesn’t fit the perfect Homo sapiens a.k.a Caucasian. While Giles is a white man, he doesn’t fit the norm of the 60’s as he is harboring a secret of being a gay man. Zelda obviously facing lots of discrimination and oppression for being a black woman. Let’s also add the fact that they have a job as janitors cleaning up after the scientist who are using their facility to study the aquatic wonder. Leading the example of the “perfect man” is the capture of the creature, Richard Strickland, played by Michael Shannon. Typically, when you have a monster movie, you have the “Van Helsing” type character to protect the world from such a monster. In this case, the movie sees him as the antagonist who while being accepted by society is the monster in this film but because the world was very strict on who was accepted in the world, his high paying job, wife and 2 kids at home, he was the clear example of a man who is on top.
As far as to who this movie will appeal to, I would say that anyone who loves Del Toro’s work, specifically Hellboy or Pan’s Labyrinth will enjoy this film for its practical effects and use of color, particularly the color green, which I believe has some meaning behind it. Also, anyone who is into fantasy films. This movie plays out like a modern fairy tale straight out of a Brother’s Grimm story. This movie is getting quite the Oscar buzz for nominations. Already standing with 7 Golden Globe nominations, this movie is going to be a bit more serious than one would expect from a monster movie. There is a bit of adventure and edge of your seat fun in some parts of the movie. It also can be a little bloody and there is nudity in the movie so keep that in mind if you decide to take your kids to see this as I didn’t really expect that to be in the movie. This movie is R-rated for more than just language.
Overall, I thought each character was given enough development and depth for you to care for them and also be entertained by them. There is a true underdog story in this film and with how the world is looking today, this will hit home a little bit for some of you. I do recommend this title to be seen. It is a nice story and its also nice to see that someone thought outside of the box by showing a love story between two unlikely characters you don’t expect to connect. For the sake of watching this 2-hour movie, there are two kinds of people that will look at this creature and Elisa and be either disgusted by what they see or see something very beautiful regardless of how different they look. The monster’s literal form may not be something to cheer for when showing affections with a human but to tell you the truth, this is how many minorities are looked at. Gay people, people of color, transgenders are all viewed as oddities just like this creature so hopefully you walk out of the movie seeing the beauty in what was shown and look at others who are different and don’t understand and see that there is a beauty in them also.
I also wanted to point out that in movies like Beauty and the Beast where a woman falls in love with an animalistic beast, Warm Bodies is a love story between a woman and a dead person, and now The Shape of Water where the affections of a woman and an aquatic creature seemed to be accepted in society. 2 out of 3 of these movies being nominated for awards. You would think we are living in a world that is okay with having stories be told using characters that are not the social norm. Still we have a long way to go as gay characters in certain films and TV are still looked down upon as shoving an agenda down America’s throats. The segregation of ethnicity pairings in film and TV is low as well. Movies like Moonlight and Call me by your name are making great steps towards the direction that a good story can be told through the lives of gay characters just as well as straight characters but these movies still came through the pipeline in limited release and not widely release like any Hollywood blockbuster out there. I hope that we are moving towards a time where someone can pitch a movie about these minority and different characters and still get the same fair chance to tell a good story like any other movie out there.
4 out of 5
I hope you enjoyed my review and let me know what you thought of the film in the comment section. Thanks for reading and I’ll see you at the movies.