LFF 2017 - The Shape Of Water
Dir: Guillermo Del Toro
Starring Sally Hawkins, Doug Jones, Richard Jenkins, Michael Shannon, Octavia Spencer, Michael Stuhlbarg
Guillermo’s latest is in many ways a delight. With caveats. After diversions into the big-budget likes of Pacific Rim and Crimson Peak (fine movies, both) the filmmaker is back more firmly in his wheelhouse of fairy tales and mythical creatures. It’s familiar territory for Del Toro and, as good as it is, it too often feels like familiar territory for his audience as well.
Sally Hawkins is superb as the mute cleaner at a shady government facility who makes contact with the lab’s latest acquisition, a sort of fish man. (Think The Creature From The Black Lagoon – a movie Del Toro has been set to remake over the years – and you get the idea.) She bonds with the creature, at first over a boiled egg lunch, and even more so when she, her co-cleaner Spencer and her gay neighbour Jenkins, decide to liberate said fish-man and keep him in her bath tub. Soon Sally and Fishie (Del Toro regular Jones) are in a unique inter-species kind of love – and government no-good-nik Shannon (he of the oblong face) is out to either weaponise his asset – or kill it.
So, it’s ET meets Splash via The Creature from the Black Lagoon – all with much better production design, cinematography and a terrific score from Alexander Desplat. Del Toro is a filmmaker who in his most personal work, wears his influences and his heart both on his sleeve. And here his sleeve is jam-packed with the above, his love of fairy tales and mythology, and the romance he clearly finds in such things. And overall, it works and even reaches moments of wonder. But it sill naggingly feels like familiar wonder. There is no sense of the horror and fear of, say, Pan’s Labyrinth (the film Shape Of Water has been most compared to.) Instead what Guillermo wants to do here is present a fairy tale for the masses, one with the dark edges pared back or stripped off altogether. Even Shannon’s character – the supposed “threat” of the piece – is played more for laughs than anything else, denying the film that crucial edge it requires. In short, both the aforementioned ET and Splash created more tension as they hurtled to their climaxes than Shape Of Water ever comes close to.
More concerned with whimsy that most of his movies, what we have here is “pleasant” del Toro, more than “scary” Del Toro, or even “provocative” Del Toro. Del Toro-lite in other words.
The Shape Of Water plays the LFF on October 10, 11 & 13
For more info go to www.bfi,org.uk/lff
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