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By Jose Jara

“ Guillermo Del Toro creates a picturesque tale of romance, monsters and music.”
By: Daniel Guzman

There are barely a handful of directors that I personally get enthusiastic about when I hear that they have a new picture coming out. One of those directors is The Shape of Water director, Guillermo Del Toro. My first interaction with Del Toro’s work was when I was 11 years old and was scarred/scared by his horror flick, Mimic, about a cockroach like monster with a creepy spoon clanking sound that the monster made whenever it was near. I was frightened and mesmerized at the same time by this horror film. Then came the action vampire sequel Blade II, which at that time became one of my favorite sequels to a film whose original I loved. Following Guillermo’s filmography path for me was Pan’s Labyrinth, which developed in me a desire for a more diverse palate of film-watching by allowing me to appreciate a foreign film more than anything else I saw that year.

Other films, such as the comic book adaptations of Hellboy & Hellboy II, though a bit cartoony for me, were a pleasure to watch for its elaborate visuals of mythological characters and underworld depictions.

I took in the preview to The Shape of Water and mulled it over thinking that this was a bit of a different road for Del Toro to go into as far as genre of movie. Of course, it incorporated some kind of sci-fi aspect to it, but overall it looked like a love story. I was intrigued to figure out how Del Toro would convince me that a leading lady would fall in love with one of his fictionally nightmarish monstrosities. This would entail finding myself next to my lady friend/wife having a movie theater date night to see this amphibian man sweep a mute girl off her feet.

The movie takes place during the cold war era, 1960ish, somewhere in Baltimore inside a secret lab where scientists, spooks, and cleaning ladies cohabitate during work hours. Two monsters show up to this lab: one being the obvious, an amphibian creature, and the other its captor, Richard Strickland portrayed by actor Michael Shannon. The story is driven by the lead heroine, a mute cleaning lady named Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins), whose best work friend, actress Octavia Spencer, speaks enough for the both of them. We are led to follow Elisa into her apartment atop of a Paris like theater going through her day to day routine that encompasses her boiling eggs for her day at work, spending time with her gay artistic neighbor, and commuting to work on the train. Elisa is immediately drawn to this alien aquatic lifeform as it crosses her path. She finds any way to get close to and befriend this captured creature, all the while the powers that be are figuring out whether to dissect this unique finding or study it alive.

My wife read a few reviews of The Shape of Water during our drive home after the movie. She loves to read every little thing about the film and what other peoples’ takes were. I hate doing that. Specifically, for the reason that I don’t want to be swayed by anyone else’s point of view or biases. I type this down, realizing the hypocrisy and irony in what I do as a movie critic. Nonetheless, just like a good husband, I listened to every read word my wife spewed out from other critics about the film. The general consensus was that the film was praised. A select few didn’t, mentioning such things as the movie being beautifully shot, but predictable. Others mentioned that Michael Shannon’s villainous character seemed very 2-dimensional.

I mention this trying to keep true to my aim to resolve in giving you a genuine review as to how the film made me feel right after I left the theater. I really liked Guillermo’s attempt at creating this world of beauty through Sally Hawkins character and its contrast with Michael Shannon’s American dream mold of a life that he could not keep together because of who he really is. Shannon is more of a monster disguised as a man, compared to the amphibian monster who is more human than he is. The background setting of this film feels more like Paris rather than Baltimore, Maryland. The music throughout the movie is very warm with a vinyl crackling feel to it with moments of Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers sequences. The story is basic and unsurprising, but visually beautiful and brilliantly acted by all.

If a movie allows me to find myself immersed and consciously lost within it, then the director did its due. Guillermo drew me into his fable of a woman in love with a man-like fish and their struggle to outsmart the monster after them. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a masterpiece, but it’s definitely a good movie, and that’s all it has to be.