The best thing about The Shape of Water is the movie’s name. The photography is great, too, and so is the music. There are also a couple of lines that are memorable. And that’s pretty much it.
If you loved Pan’s Labyrinth, there is a good chance that del Toro’s film that premiered at the Venice International Film Festival is a right match for you. But if dark fantasies about lonely women falling in love with monsters are not your cup of tea, you will probably be checking your watch every few minutes. Unless you are one of those brave souls ready to walk out after the movie has started, you are in for the ride for an endless two hours. And even if you have agoraphobia, the cavernous settings will leave you claustrophobic.
That the unlovely sight of the Baltimore decks for a few seconds comes as a relief says a lot. Oh yes, we need to say what’s the movie about.
It is 1961 0r 1962. The U.S. government has captured a monster in the Amazon River that local tribes venerate as a god. The creature, an abominable biped that predictably looks like a reptile, is kept at a secret U.S. facility. But a mute cleaning lady takes pity on him and ends up falling in love. She is abetted in her attempt to free the Amazonian god by a colleague in the janitorial services and by a Russian spy who works in the scientific team. All three conspire against the truly very evil lead U.S. investigator, Strickland, superbly played by Michael Shannon.
For make no mistake: the extraordinary cast makes the best of a very weak plot. Octavia Spencer, the romantic janitor’s coworker and accomplice, is outstanding. She steals the show. Yet Elisa, who along with the monster is the main character and is played by Sally Hawkins, and Richard Jenkins (as Elisa’s neighbor and second accomplice) are well reproach, too. But when all is said and done, The Shape of Water is still a horror blockbuster on steroids making up with fabulous production the lack of substance.
A parody of a parody, it had the right elements the be something worth watching. It’s the American military-industrial complex run amok a few years after Eisenhower’s stunning warning. A lot of money has been poured into something that could be a great film, for on one level it is a parable on loneliness and sex, or at least sex as a proxy for love, with a lot of self-stimulation that really has no place in the plot and that does the audience no favor. Yet it ends up being a cartoonish story of unidimensional characters, acting out on tired metaphors. It does not take long to feel that the joke is on you. You would be much better getting a copy of Marvel Comics and enjoying the adventures of the Spider Man. And if you are looking to lift your spirits with a story built around the beauty in ugliness, you will get much better value with Batman Returns. It’s been some time, but it holds up pretty well.
No worries, Del Toro’s film has a fair amount of FGF, the feel-good factor that at least makes some of your dollars well spent. That, and the stupendous score. Music always redeems it all.