All the R. As R as can be. Like, nudity R. Nudity and finger removal R. Also, if you are squeamish about stuff happening to cats, that would also make this movie "R" for you. Also, weird erotic stuff. This movie is also R for weird erotic stuff. So this movie is R for nudity, eroticism, gore, violence, and cat violence.
DIRECTOR: Guillermo del Toro
I'm not sure that I'm going to go be able to maintain a sensitive tone on this one. I always kind of have to walk a pretty fine line, especially when a movie has a message. I'm always encouraging when art has a message, even when a movie's message may not always align with my moral perspective. There are also a ton of different ideas where "the jury is still out" with me. The Shape of Water kind of goes to a place where it may have backpeddled something that I thought I knew pretty well and I know that's not what it wanted me to think about.
For people who know me, I get really jazzed about Guillermo del Toro. The most sardonic I get about the guy is when he announces that he is attached to a movie. When I read that del Toro is set to write or direct a movie, I know that there realistically is only a 10% chance that he'll get around to it. The guy quits a lot of movies. I honestly think that studios are super enthusiastic about even having meetings with del Toro, so they manage to leak that information to generate buzz. But often, del Toro ends up having nothing to do with that movie. Remember when Guillermo del Toro was supposed to direct The Hobbit? Yeah, that didn't happen. But honest to Pete, I saw the trailer for a completed Guillermo del Toro project and I lost my mind. The trailer looked absolutely gorgeous. I know that del Toro really knows his way around a camera and that he can make the best gore look absolutely beautiful. Then I saw that the movie was going to be a monster movie romance story and I was even more invested. That looks awesome. Yeah, I can get behind a monster movie romance. Look at that sentence. "Guillermo del Toro made a romance story involving a monster." That's everything I've ever wanted in a movie. In some ways, the movie really pays off on that premise. This is a monster movie romance story. Heck, it goes even further down my "like list" by making it a monster movie romance story that pays homage to the films and music of yesteryear and has a great setting. Okay, del Toro, take all of my money. But the movie ended up really on the weird side of icky and I don't want it to be. I want this movie to be the one that really affected me and got me thinking in new places. I don't think it really did that. Don't get me wrong. The movie is fabulously written and shot. But the big hurdle that this movie presents is that we knew that Sally Hawkins's mute Eliza was going to have on-screen intercourse with a creature of a different species in a romantic setting. That romance had to be compelling. But it never really got there. The movie just kind of had this icky, kind of bestiality feeling to it and I feel like a bad person for not being able to get out of that headspace.
A lot of the problem lied in the fact that Doug Jones's monster never really felt like an equal peer to Eliza. He is always a creature. I know that the movie teased the fact that the monster was actually a god. But there is something severely lacking in the characterization of this monster where it felt like Eliza was sleeping with something that functioned almost entirely on instinct rather than a reciprocation of emotions. I'm just giving the loose background here and a lot of this could be gleaned from the trailer, but Michael Shannon (whom I'm starting to warm to despite the fact that I haven't really liked him in anything I've seen) has captured and tortured this sea creature for the U.S. government. Knowing that this creature is going to be killed, Eliza breaks him out of this facility (I won't tell you how) and takes care of the monster in her apartment. So far, this movie is exactly E.T. to a point where I'm a little disappointed in the lack of creativity. The creature is learning to sign language, but it only does so in very simple ideas. I get it. The creature has only recently been exposed to a new language, so the very idea that it can pick up on this shows that it is intelligent. But the sign language is very rudimentary. The creature never really asks its own questions or communicates its own feelings, shy of basic gratitude for being fed and housed. Like E.T. the creature has the power to do some low-level healing, but it also bites the head off of a cat. What I'm getting at is that in no point in the movie do I feel like the creature is an equal of a human being and really just feels like an animal who can lightly communicate. I kept thinking of Koko the gorilla the entire time watching this movie. The creature acts like Koko and has the same depth of conversation that the gorilla does. And then Eliza has intercourse with it...a few times. Like, the one thing that E.T. wasn't missing besides guns that turn into walkie-talkies is Elliot sleeping with the alien. There was never a thought there that perhaps there should be some inter-species eroticism. I honestly thought that this movie was going to easily convince me that these two characters should somehow be together and anyone who didn't root for that was a prude. But I felt remarkably old fashioned coming out of this movie. I felt like a bigot because I saw the allegory running through the film and I couldn't really jump on board. It really just felt really ick. The weirdest thing for me is that all of Eliza's friends were really supportive of that decision. Like, not one of them took a second to process that choice. It just was. It honestly kind of felt like rape to me, but everyone was like, "Go get some, girlfriend." Really? Because that's a big step for openmindedness.
There are a bunch of things in this movie that really work. I think the setting sells the movie perfectly. I don't know what it is about the conspiratorial nature of the government in the 1950s, but it always works. Old timey guns and men in hats work so much better than 1980s shadow government. People smoked and slicked their hair despite being horrible people. Like I mentioned, I really liked Shannon in this movie and this might be the context that helps him. He's just a great terrible guy and I think the choice is not to make him look broey. Man of Steel made him look so Ed Hardy-ish that I needed to see him as a corrupted G-Man to make those character choices make sense. Del Toro is a crazy person, so he always has these really gross choices to his villains. In this one, it's the fingers. I'm not going to spoil what's going on with the fingers because that was spoiled for me, but I kind of love it. I know that it is completely removed from reality. That's a really weird choice to do in a movie that already has a pretty high concept. You'd think that Guillermo del Toro would be doing anything to ground this movie from the weirdness it presents, but I also know that del Toro loves throwing everything into a movie, regardless of how many people can possibly relate to it. He seems like he has fun with those grossout moments, so I can kind of applaud that. Along with Shannon comes an absolutely phenomenal cast. Again, outside of the theme that absolutely fails with me, the casting job in this is nearly perfect. The only person I kind of feel bad for is Octavia Spencer, who had such a similar role to her part in Hidden Figures. She's in Hidden Figures and The Help. I wonder if she's being typecast for old-timey racist era science locations. While she does a remarkable job in this movie, I am kind of bummed out that she doesn't really have that much to play with. She always seems to be a sidekick, despite the fact that she is a fabulous actress who could probably pull off everything. (Her reaction to Eliza's sexual escapades is perhaps the most disappointing moment of the film.) I also really like Richard Jenkins in this movie. I really got behind him when I binged Six Feet Under and since then, he has done nothing that hasn't impressed me. He might be the most sympathetic character in the story. I know that the creature's tale is an allegory for Jenkins's characters more realistic struggle. But that also made me wish that more of the movie was focused on that struggle. It almost felt like a side story or only as a foil for the creature's narrative and I feel like that should be flip-flopped. I think the story might have something in it if Giles was the center of the story and that he was sympathetic to the creature's issues because of his own troubles. But again, that is a major work around and I don't know if that would really fix anything.
I don't think I've ever been so in love with elements of a movie and so disappointed with the overall feeling after I left. Like del Toro himself, this movie is in love with the history of cinema, but that is just a small part of a much larger tapestry. Think of someone just listing amazing ingredients that should go together, but for some reason it just doesn't taste right. I want the brownies to taste great and there's really no reason that it shouldn't, but the movie doesn't come together in the way it should. Every single part of this movie was the right ingredient, but the central premise of the movie doesn't work like it should. Perhaps I am much more of a prude than I thought I was, but I couldn't help but think that this movie worked against its interest than it did helping its own interests.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.