Revisit: The Shape Of Water

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I watched this movie again the other night. I believe it was the 6th time I have seen it. No film has ever hit me in the way that this one has. Certainly there are people who will still argue that this isn’t a horror movie but it’s impossible to say it isn’t a genre film.

For decades whenever someone would ask me that age old question, “What’s your favorite movie?”, I answered The Godfather. There is a ton that I love about The Godfather. In my opinion, it’s a flawless film. The Shape Of Water is not flawless but it has surpassed The Godfather as my favorite movie.

There isn’t much that I can write about it that I haven’t already put out there. So, I decided to re-post the review that I wrote for it on letterboxd right after seeing it for the first time in January:

“Guillermo del Toro has made his masterpiece. For years I have listened to people rave about his movies. It’s not that I didn’t like them they just didn’t hit me the same way they seemed to hit others. The Shape Of Water hit me like a ton of bricks.

Debate has raged about whether or not this is a horror film or a love story. The answer is: Yes. It’s both of those things and so much more. This is del Toro’s love letter to cinema. It is equal parts monster movie and love story with a dash of heist film, musical and action thrown into the mix. The lead character lives above and old movie house, for God’s sake.

The basic plot centers around Elisa (Sally Hawkins), a mute maid at a government facility. The facility becomes home to an amphibious creature (Doug Jones). Elisa has a chance encounter with the creature when he is moved to the facility and she immediately becomes infatuated with him. While the two of them form a relationship, the government agent in charge of the project, Mr. Strickland (Michael Shannon) decides that the best way for them to deal with the creature is to kill it, cut it open and learn how it functions. Eliza enlists the help of her best friend Giles (Richard Jenkins) to sneak the creature out of the facility and set him free.

It is impossible to overstate how great the cast is in this film. Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins and Octavia Spencer are all at the top of their game. There is not a single bad performance. I was concerned about sitting through a film with a mute lead and a creature simply because neither one of them can actually speak. Doug Jones does what Doug Jones does in this movie. He delivers an amazingly expressive performance while entirely covered by a monster suit. There is no better creature actor on the planet and he delivers in this role. Frances McDormand will receive a ton of attention and awards for her terrific performance in Threes Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and she deserves all of the recognition in the world. Unfortunately much of that is going to come at the expense of Sally Hawkins who turns in the best performance I have seen in a long time. Her character cannot speak but there is not a single frame in this film where you don’t understand what she is feeling and thinking. It’s truly amazing work.

Normally I encourage people to make sure they see a movie in theaters when it is a huge spectacle film with a ton of special effects and big explosions. This movie doesn’t have much of that but it’s so beautiful to look at that it would be a shame to miss it on the big screen. The colors, the water, the lighting and the amazing creature are all something to behold. This is the second film that Dan Laustsen has worked on with del Toro (Crimson Peak being the other) and I hope they never stop working together.

I’ve seen The Shape Of Water once. Usually I would say that the score to a movie is not a good one if I notice it on the first viewing. Scores are a strange thing because they are music that, if written well, you’re not really supposed to notice. Alexandre Desplat’s score for this movie did catch my ear but in the best possible way. At some point during watching I began to realize how perfectly the music matched the images. It’s beautiful.

Beyond all of the stuff mentioned above, The Shape of Water strikes a chord for another reason. This is a story about the people that are often overlooked in our society. It’s set in the 1960’s. The main character is mute, she falls in love with an actual monster, her best friends are a gay man and an African-American woman. In our society these people are made to feel as if they don’t matter. We currently have a President who has basically said out loud to these people that they don’t matter. To see a movie that tells these castoffs that they are important is no small thing. Del Toro clearly loves these characters and the audience quickly comes to love them as well.

Mr. Strickland, who is the “bad guy” in this story, even comes off as a sympathetic character. This is a guy who is simply doing the things that society has told him a real man does. He is serving his country and following orders. He’s a tough guy and he is going to prove it as often as he can. We get a glimpse of his home life and he has been awarded with the American Dream for his efforts. A couple of cute kids, a nice house and a beautiful wife. He doesn’t take joy in any of that, it’s all empty for him. This sort of dissection of masculinity is a powerful thing.

The Shape Of Water isn’t just the best film of 2017. It’s the best film of the last 10 years and one of the best ever made. I finally get it. Guillermo del Toro wins. He’s a genius and he’s made a masterpiece.”

 

 


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