Movie Review: The Shape of Water, directed by Guillermo Del Toro

With this film, I don’t really know exactly where to begin. It’s actually kind of fitting that this is the first movie review that I am going to post on my blog, as it is so noteworthy. I almost didn’t see it, figuring it would be just another cheesy, offbeat romance film; a rom-com with the Universal Studios’ Creature From the Black Lagoon playing the leading man; the director is a big fan of that film apparently. That was the sense that I took away from the trailer that I saw. However, I managed to talk myself into the theatre with the argument that if it was even half as magickal as Crimson Peak had been, then the cost would be worth it. I had also seen Pan’s Labyrinth on video, and I had never seen one of his films in the theatre, so I wanted to have that experience. I was more than pleasantly surprised when the film turned out to be so much more than just a simple romance; it’s a dark, lovecraftian treatise on culture, gender roles, the pressure to succeed and conform, and is also almost a love letter to the twentieth century itself, and what the U.S. used to be. There are a lot of cold war references, both media and otherwise, in passing throughout the film.  Some are films on televisions, posters, everything is orchestrated along with an art deco aesthetic straight out of films like Dark City and video games like the Bioshock series.

The script sets up a little microcosm just like a novella. One plotline regarding another country’s desire to possess the creature for themselves is like a cinematic rabbit hole, following one character home at a couple of points. I have heard that certain groups aren’t altogether happy with their portrayals in the story, but it stands to reason, as characters are only human after all, they would be flawed and not some archetypical paragon making people like them look good. That’s not what the film is trying to portray. It’s a fantasy, or fairytale as some have termed it, which uses pure imagination to illustrate what might be if a merman were indeed found in real life and how men of science would try to exploit it. In an almost grimdark fashion, each of the supporting characters has his or her own little sub-story; Eliza’s gay friend is a closeted homosexual artist, and the U.S. was a very different place back then for people who were considered different. But that is absolutely part of the whole backdrop of the narrative, the theme of being the outsider, the ostracized. The palette is all greens and blacks and whites, but with a few moments of genuine golden hue, as if in a daydream. The shots are often pans, sometimes even fixed pans like those old binocular stations like you’d find at the top of the Empire State Building, but rarely follows. So while the film may have a color schematic similar to Fight Club, the cinematography is completely different. If I had to liken the overall narrative style to anything, I would say that it was most akin to dreaming while awake, with time almost folding in on itself as the plot plays out. And it was one of the few films that I’ve seen in recent years that I truly did not want to end. Check it out!

5 out of 5 virtual digital stars.

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