Saturday, January 13, 2018

'The Shape of Water' Is a Cold War Fairy Tale

The Shape of Water is filmmaker Guillermo del Toro’s latest “creature feature.”  When I first saw its trailer, like what many others observed, I thought it looked like an origin story for Abe Sapien, a beloved character from the Hellboy movies, which del Toro also directed.  Aside from being a “Creature from the Black Lagoon”-type monster like Abe Sapien and being played by Doug Jones, the creature in The Shape of Water, per the trailer, was also shown to be fond of eggs and music – just like Abe Sapien.  However, it turned out The Shape of Water is an entirely unconnected, independent film from Hellboy.

It’s about a mute woman named Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins) who works as a janitress in a secret government laboratory in the 1960’s.  One day, the facility receives its most classified asset yet: a humanoid amphibian (Doug Jones) captured from South America.  Fascinated of the creature, Elisa begins to visit him in secret, sharing food and music with him and communicating through sign language.  Soon, the two form a close bond.  When the fate of the creature proves to be dire at the hands of the government spook (Michael Shannon) in charge of the research project, she must figure out a way to save him.
The Shape of Water is visually appealing, thanks to great camera work, practical effects, set design, and production value; the performances are stellar; and the characters are brilliantly realized.  This movie probably has del Torro’s best directing-and-writing job since Pan’s Labyrinth.

It’s a strange and stylish film.  Well, this is technically true with most of del Torro’s films, but it’s a perfectly adequate description for it nonetheless.
If I have to describe what this film is in a single phrase, I’ll go with “a Cold War fairy tale.”  Indeed, it’s basically that.  It even has a love story, which is typical in many notable fairy tales.  Sure, there’s an understandably disgusting quality to it, since it’s like bestiality to a certain degree.  But, if you think about it, it’s similar in a sense to The Little Mermaid.  Bingo, that’s exactly it!  A gritty, grounded reverse-Little Mermaid (if you’ve seen the film, “gritty, grounded reverse-Little Mermaid” should make sense).  Besides, cross-species romances were rampant in traditional fairy tales.  Messed up?  Well, before they got all Disneyfied, fairy tales were inherently dark and messed up.  With these in mind, The Shape of Water is exactly how a traditional fairy tale set during the Cold War era would have turned out being.

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