Having mute protagonists appeared to be a running theme this weekend as I watched both Netflix exclusive; Mute, as well as Guillermo del Toro’s dark fantasy; The Shape of Water, but this was totally unintentional.
Let’s start this week’s reviews with the better of the two…
So The Shape of Water follows the story of a mute cleaner who works in a secret government laboratory in Baltimore during the Cold War in the 1960’s. She lives in a crappy apartment above a movie theatre, and her a struggling white gay advertising illustrator neighbour, and her African-American co-worker, are her only friends.
Whilst at work one day, a strange container is brought in which houses an amphibious creature, which was captured in South America by your classic pro-America-Anti-Soviets shifty government agent type, played by Michael Shannon (from Boardwalk Empire, and Zod in Man of Steel).
The mute cleaner ends up catching a glimpse of this creature and is then curious to see more of it, sneaking inside the area the facility houses it and trying to communicate with it (through sign language), however she is not phased by the fact that one of the people working on it got their fingers ripped off, and she had to clean up a shit ton of blood around the enclosure the first time she goes in there, but she still presses on.
Anyway, the first half of the film focuses on her deciding to hatch a plan to get the creature out of there, with the help of her friends as well as a Russian spy posing as a scientist who has orders to eliminate the creature (as the Americans are planning on using the creature to somehow get one up on the Soviets during this troublesome time between the two nations), but he has grown attached to it and plans on helping the cleaner with her escape plan.
I won’t go into the rest of the film, as that would be telling you far too much, but that is the overall premise, of at least the first half of the film. The second focuses on the aftermath of the plan, whether it succeeds or fails, and what the eventualities of the result is.
Personally I really enjoyed this film. It is a little hard to swallow at times, such as the things I might have made little remarks about during the short synopsis I have given. I did find myself questioning a lot of things in the first third of the film, as well as finding it a little hard to believe (I know the story focuses on an aquatic man, but as long as things are done in a realistic way, anything can be believable), but there was something endearing about the film that made me overlook this.
If you have seen del Toro’s other dark fantasy; Pan’s Labyrinth, and enjoyed that movie in the same way that I did, then you will feel right at home with The Shape of Water.
Funny enough, on the matter of Pan’s Labyrinth, the moment you see the creature you will recognise it as the classic del Toro monster that is featured in his films (it is something to do with the mouth and the eyes, I reckon). But then I realised that it is played by Doug Jones, who played the monster in Pan’s Labyrinth at the dinner table (you know the one with the eyes in his hands) as well as Abe Sapien from Hellboy. You might also know him as Commander Saru on Star Trek: Discovery. Naturally Doug is brilliant in his role, however he is being strangely type-cast as a lanky inhuman creature, haha.
Going back to Pan’s Labyrinth, The Shape of Water is not as good as that film, despite the fact that it is the closest thing you can compare it to, as both films are set in the real world but have some underlining fantasy things going on, with the occasional touch of horror and gore, or at least something horrific happening to a couple of people.
Both films are dark fantasies, and this means that, while the overall story is very family friendly, such as a little girl who visits a fantasy realm, or a woman who falls in love with a mythological ampibous man, the content of the film is not family friendly in the slightest. Drug abuse, sex, violence, gore, and horror, both play roles in these movies (although The Shape of Water does not have as much on the side of horror).
Similar to how in Pan’s Labyrinth, when one of the characters gets the side of their mouth sliced open, one person gets shot in this exact same place, only for us to see this in all its gory detail.
One ending of the film leaves a lot open to interpretation. If you interpreted the film as I did, then it explains a lot of the issues that I had with the first third of the film, as mentioned before. Something does click and it makes total sense, however, the film does not explicitly say this, so you need to get to this conclusion on your own. Alternatively you can interpret the film’s ending however you see fit and it would still work.
While it is open, I am 99.9% sure that my interpretation of the film is correct, but I would love to hear what other people thought of it.
There are only a handful of characters in this film and each one is fleshed out enough for us to care about them, even the antagonist of the film (the government agent guy played by Michael Shannon), who we see living his life at home with his family and going about this work, and we get a greater understanding of him, which is not usually something that occurs in normal films, but, going back to Pan’s Labyrinth, is quite common in del Toro’s films, as we learn quite a lot about the evil Stepfather/military captain.
It would have been easy to just have the shady government agent remain at arms length, as it is a villain everyone can get behind instantly (much like a Nazi or something), but by humanising him, giving him flaws and personal details, we get a good understanding of the character and his motivations, so we can make up our own minds on how we feel about them, rather than just being a cardboard cut-out bad guy.
The mute herself, played by Sally Hawkins, brilliantly portrays her emotions, despite being unable to talk, and we do find ourselves getting behind her and wanting her to succeed.
Having watched the movie Mute the night before and seeing how Alexander Skarsgård is a very one dimensional character who cannot speak, it made me instantly appreciate Hawkins’ portrayal of her character in this movie.
Overall The Shape of Water is an engaging and endearing film that has you drawn in by the curiosities of what the monster is and why the protagonist wants to see it, but ends up entrapping you and sucking you in to this fantasy love story that keeps audiences engaged throughout the entity of the film.
It is another great piece of work by del Toro, even if it does not hold up to the status of Pan’s Labyrinth, which is the closest comparison to del Toro’s work, which is ultimately one of the only qualms with The Shape of Water, as it reminds us so much of Pan’s Labyrinth and how uniquely brilliant that movie was, yet it never manages to reach that height.
Regardless of that, it is a great film and its definitely worth checking out. If you like del Toro’s previous work then you will feel right at home with this dark love story of fantasy set within the real world.