Spoilers might surface.
Guillermo del Toro is a master storyteller. You don’t need me to tell you that. If there is any doubt, you can just watch his latest movie, The Shape of Water. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen such a wonderful, enchanting and well crafted film with a solid storyline. There’s a sense of fairy-tale wonder set in the classic monster genre.
You might want to debate that there is no such thing as a monster genre, but Guillermo del Toro already proved that argument wrong back in 2006 with Pan’s Labyrinth. I know a lot of reviews have made comparisons to Hellboy but this seems a lot closer to the atmosphere from Pan.
The movie starts with a bit of narration. Now, don’t panic. There is close to zero exposition in the words. Actually there’s hardly any exposition in the movie. It’s the 60’s and Elisa (Sally Hawkins) is a lonely woman who cleans a secret laboratory and is a mute. Zelda (Octavia Spencer) is her workmate and friend, an African-American woman in a time where racism is still rampant. Giles (Richard Jenkins) is Elisa’s neighbor, an artist trying to make it in advertising with a crush on a pie shop owner.
We are never told any of these things. We are shown them. When new boss Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon) talks to Zelda, he never employs an explicit racist epithet. Yet, when he says “you people” the racist overtones will make you cringe. Giles is very much in love with a pie shop owner, but we are never told he’s a homosexual. We learn that by watching him.
The same goes with the amphibian man that is brought in. The creature is never analyzed or explained fully. We don’t get someone explaining his stats or his physiology. Every other movie I’ve seen in the past decade would feel the need to stop and explain everything. Guillermo del Toro simply shows what we need to know. Any other made-up science stuff is inconsequential.
The 60s are very much alive in this film. Even the machinery in the lab looks the part. The amphibian man, played by Doug Jones (also the fawn in Pan’s Labyrinth), does have a resemblance to Abe Sapien from Hellboy. He does also feel like a completely different character.
Extremely recommended. The story is similar to a lot of other beauty-and-the-beast movies but it’s well crafted with solid performances by the entire cast. The attention to detail all the way from music to clothes, cars and attitudes is excellent. Well worth the ticket, but if you’re looking for action or gore you should probably try something else.
That will do for now.