Choruses of ‘it looks a bit weird’ and ‘it’s not really my bag’ dominated the talk around Shape of Water leading up to watching it. But Guillermo del Toro’s stylistic love story between a mute woman and a fish will win you over by the end…
HEKKTA was sat next to a helping of popcorn in the rather plush cinema called Olympic Studios with a certain reluctance to watch the film. You know that feeling when you’re in the cinema and the film is about to begin, but you not really looking forward to it. The film certainly gets your attention, as within about 5 minutes of the film starting, you see Sally Hawkin’s character Eliza masturbating in a bath. Perhaps that was a ploy to do exactly that! But then Eliza quickly shifts to the character she adopts for the majority of the film, a very timid and nervous passenger to most of the things going on around her. She cannot speak but she can hear, so her closest companions are two characters, similar in personality, who like to unload all their thoughts without the hassle of real conversation.
The film is based in Baltimore in the 1960s during the Cold War tension and Eliza works as a cleaner in a military institution drowned in secrecy. While cleaning a lab, she stumbles upon this amphibious monster being detained by the Americans, or so it is said to be. The film plays out with the themes of good and bad running through the script. The rather abhorent baddie, played by Michael Shannon, is the military employee whose aggressive Americanism makes him very easy to hate. His dogged determination to defeat the Russians breeds a character who thinks he is good, but is actually very much the opposite.
The film has a weird charm about it and we absolutely loved the style it was shot in. Del Toro shot the movie in almost film noir style; everything is dark and damp and the colours are all dulled. The film has you constantly wondering when it was set, where it was set; whether it’s fantasy or fiction. But the truth is it is not entirely relevant. The film immerses you into Eliza’s strange and very isolated world and the discovery of someone as strange and isolated as her is an uplifting thing to watch. Shannon’s character is the baddie attempting to destroy the monster and you find yourself rooting for a romance between a woman and a fish, which is not something many films get you doing!
On the surface the film is a love story, but actually del Toro is playing on many deeper themes in this film. The baddie is the white, American and powerful man and the good guys are the social outcasts. Del Toro addresses the systemic attitude of ignorance and bigotry towards those that look different from what we know. The film is about embracing the different, learning and broadening your mind, because bigotry and close-mindedness get’s you nowhere. We enjoyed this aspect of the film as we feel it’s important that huge Hollywood movies make these points as they are one of the biggest platforms in the world and can influence and change societies.
However the predictability of the film did bug us a tad. You sort of know what is going to happen from word go. The good guys win (or stay in love forever and ever) and the bad guys lose (well, get their throat slit by the nail of a man-fish). We couldn’t help feeling the film was rather similar to Beauty & the Beast in terms of plot similarity and neither did it provide any real twists or turns. But that said, huge plot-twists was not something del Toro was attempting to create with this film, rather a strange immersing movie that attempts to challenge your perception of a love story.
Perhaps it’s unfair that during awards season you find yourself comparing everything you’ve seen to all of the other films in the running. Oh yeh it was alright, but I preferred the other Best Picture nominated film. It’s very easy to do. Ignoring the fact we are in Oscar season, this is a very uplifting film, completely unique to any movies we’ve seen recently. However, we do not think it’s worth the 13 nods it has been given.