The Fish is Off:
The Shape of Water
Well, I knew it was about the interspecies love between a woman and a sea creature from the South American lagoons. And yet nothing quite prepared me for that…shall we say, interesting plot development half-way through.
Nor was I ready for the way that Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins) prepares herself for her day’s work as a cleaner at a *ahem* top-secret government facility in the Cold War year of 1962: have a dream about floating in water; wake up; run a hot bath; put on some eggs to boil; grab the egg-timer and hop into the bath; masturbate furiously until the eggs are done.
Then it’s right next door to visit her moaning old gay neighbour, Giles (Richard Jenkins): he’s losing his hair; he’s lost his job because of his drinking; he’s all alone in the world; he wants someone to love him; blah blah blah. Somebody should have told him to take the hangdog expression off his face, shut up with the whining and get on with life. In the end, we’re all alone. Get a damned grip, man. Jeez, there must have been times that Elisa regretted not being deaf instead of mute, as she is.
In fairness, it is Sally Hawkins’s acting that makes The Shape of Water in any way watchable: that wonderfully expressive face was made for this kind of arty film. And I may not have liked the guy that Jenkins was playing, but it’s the kind of thing that he does so well. Again, it’s his face. I can never see him without thinking of that great performance as the lovesick gym manager in the Coen Brother’s brilliant Burn After Reading.
Another guy in a role he could do in his sleep is Michael Shannon as Colonel Strickland. It’s Shannon, so it’s almost a given that he’ll be weirdly twisted and sadistic; but I could have probably lived without seeing how creepy the guy is in the bedroom as well.
Strickland has found a human-like fish-creature down South America way so naturally he brings him to the base where Elisa is a janitor – you know, the facility that is so ultra-secure that it has cameras and guards everywhere. Well, except in the room where the Gill-Man (Doug Jones) is actually kept, of course, because that would make sense; and where Elisa seems to be able to come and go, just as she pleases. I know that this is a Beauty and the Beast-like fantasy, but shouldn’t fantasy have just a bit of a nod to consistency?
Whatever director Guillermo del Toro was aiming for, it went sailing completely over my head. And I’ve been a fan of the man stretching right back to 1993 and his great debut, the equally arty Mexican horror movie, Cronos. He hasn’t exactly been prolific, cinema-wise, this being only his tenth feature since then. However, a lot of that time was spent in trying to get the Hobbit trilogy going until he gave up tearing his beard out and Peter Jackson took over. Then he had an epic battle in unsuccessfully trying to get H.P Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness onto the screen, a project that had myself and every other Lovecraft fan salivating and drooling like mad things.
Looking at what del Toro has done with his very own Deep One from Innsmouth makes me think that we may just have dodged a bullet after all.
In fact, I disliked this movie so much that it will probably pick up more than a few Oscars. Thirteen nominations? Ah well, no surprise there: if we learned anything in 2017 it was that the whole industry is crazier than we ever suspected.
It is a homage to that wonderful 50s classic The Creature from the Black Lagoon, as well as some other golden oldies, so in theory it should have been the kind of thing I just love. But it’s as if del Toro just threw everything at you and hoped that something would stick. It’s so self-indulgent that it makes Ken Russell look positively restrained, shy and retiring.
Did we throw in a bit of homophobia? Check. Racial prejudice? Well, there’s no room for that but let’s stick in a completely unnecessary scene, anyway.
Time for a song-and-dance number? Yes, I’m not kidding.
I’m throwing this fish back in the water.
You can look elsewhere if you want to see a clip from this one. I’m showing you one from The Creature from the Black Lagoon. That’s the one you should be watching, anyway.