Doug Jones

The Shape of Water

shape of water

In the 1960’s a mute janitor, Elisa, works nights at a government research facility. She goes through the same lonely routine day after day, only able to communicate with her two closest friends, until the facility acquires a new “asset.” This asset is a strange and beautiful aquatic creature, as mysterious as it is dangerous. When Elisa forms a bond with the creature she decides that she must do anything she can to save his life.

Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, Crimson Peak) is one of the most visionary writer/directors of our time. He is known for creating haunting films that are as strikingly beautiful as they are fascinating. While his credits include a number of fantastic films, The Shape of Water may be the most breathtaking film he has ever created. The plot seems to combine elements that display del Toro’s passions: classic film, The Creature From the Black Lagoon, and people who are considered “different” who find love and acceptance in each other. The influence of The Creature From the Black Lagoon is the most apparent aspect of the film. Del Toro himself has stated that it was his inspiration for the plot. What is more subtle is how del Toro injects his love of old Hollywood cinema into the film. Not only does Elisa reside above a movie theater, but she is often shown watching old black and white films with her neighbor and friend, Giles. Yet, it is the feeling of being an outsider, and finding others who feel the same, that is the focus of the film.

Elisa is not only mute, but she is an orphan as well. She is an outsider and spends much of her time alone. Her only two friends are also outsiders for a number of reasons; Zelda, who is a black woman in a time when that made you an outcast, and Giles, who is also an outcast in his own way. Their mutual loneliness brought them together as friends, and it is also what draws Elisa to the creature. She doesn’t see him as a monster. He is simply another outsider in need of companionship. This premise is something that many people can relate to in some capacity. The friendship that grows between Elisa and the creature makes the heart swell.

The entire cast of The Shape of Water delivers outstanding performances, from the leading lady down to fleeting roles that only last a few minutes. Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine, Never Let Me Go) is absolutely stunning as Elisa. Expressing strong emotion is difficult without a voice, but Hawkins does it perfectly. In a particularly powerful scene Elisa is desperately trying to explain to Giles why she has to save the creature. Watching Hawkins emotionally use sign-language to express her explanation is utterly heart-wrenching. Doug Jones (Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy) is also fantastic as the creature. Jones and del Toro have done many projects together, and Jones is known for his work as various strange beings that involve full body and face prosthetics. Much like Hawkins, Jones has to emote without the use of a voice, but he has the further disadvantage of not having a human face either. Still, Jones finds a way to push the emotion through the costume. Not surprisingly, Michael Shannon (Boardwalk Empire, Nocturnal Animals) delivers a very disturbing performance as Richard Strickland, the man who captured the creature and brought it to the facility. A common theme of this film is that humans are often the true monsters, and Shannon gives audiences a monster they can truly despise. While they have somewhat smaller roles, it is just as important to state how great the group was who makes up the remaining “outsiders” in the film: Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures, The Help) as Zelda, Richard Jenkins (Cabin in the Woods, Let Me In) as Giles, and Michael Stuhlbarg (Boardwalk Empire, A Serious Man) as Dr. Hoffstetler.

As with most of del Toro’s work, The Shape of Water is visually exquisite. The creature design alone is absolutely gorgeous. There is clear inspiration from the look in Creature From the Black Lagoon, but del Toro made the creature much more sleek and beautiful. The prosthetics blend so well with the CGI of the creature, creating a striking and realistic being. Along with the creature design, del Toro also made each scene stand out with distinct color palettes. Via Twitter, del Toro explained the meaning behind each color choice made in the film. He explains that Elisa’s apartment and things in her world are the cyans and blues of water, while the homes of other characters are the warm tones of gold and amber. The color red is for “cinema, life, and love,” which is apparent in the red drapes in the movie theater and how Elisa wears more and more red during the film as she gets closer to the creature. Green is used to represent the future. It is a prevalent color in the government lab, fancy new cars, and other items of the future. These deliberate choices add meaning in places it would not normally be found, as well as elegance. These choices allow del Toro to achieve a truly breathtaking aesthetic throughout the film.

The Shape of Water may be the most stunning film I have ever seen. Visually, it draws you in with gorgeous creature design and fascinating use of colors. The performances are absolutely outstanding, and the characters are fascinating. The story del Toro creates in this film is one of being an outsider, and finding others who feel the same and creating an intense, strong bond. I rarely watch a film where I wouldn’t change a thing, and I virtually never give out perfect scores for films. The Shape of Water is an exception, as I wouldn’t change a thing, and it is wholly deserving of a perfect score. The Shape of Water is a film that people will be talking about for years to come.

OVERALL RATING: 10/10

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The Bye Bye Man

bye_bye_man

Three college students rent an old house off campus. In the house is a small nightstand. Within that nightstand the words “don’t think it, don’t say it” are written over and over and over. Under that writing something else is carved into the wood:”The Bye Bye Man.” From the moment the name is read and spoken aloud, the friends are put in danger. They must quickly work to discover the origin of the writing and save themselves from pure evil.

Going into this film I did not have high expectations. It looked like your typical PG-13 horror flick with a bunch of young unknown actors and a mediocre plot. The opening scene of the film almost changed my mind. It was completely different than I expected. It was shocking and it set the tone for what could have been an amazing story. Unfortunately, the rest of the film was exactly what I expected.

There was a lot of potential hidden within this mess of a film. As I said before, the first 10 minutes of the film were superb. It threw you into events that showed you what needed to be done when the name is spoken aloud. By showing this to the audience, we immediately get a better understanding of some of the mythology behind the mysterious Bye Bye Man. Once we get to the present, everything becomes less clear. The mythology the filmmakers attempted to build is spotty and incomplete. On more than one occasion scenes depict a train and two old coins. They are shown many times, yet not once is their significance explained. The only things we know for sure about the Bye Bye Man are that you shouldn’t think or say his name, he has a strange dog-like creature as his sidekick, and he drives his victims mad by making them see things.

While the film doesn’t focus enough on the mythology, it does focus on many minor plot points that have no real significance to the story. Specifically, the film focused a lot on the lead actor having a sneaking suspicion that his girlfriend and best friend are having an affair. I understand that this was implanted into the plot as a way for the Bye Bye Man to invade this character’s mind, but at the same time this idea is put into our minds even before the Bye Bye Man is involved. It doesn’t make sense to have a character suspect his girlfriend is cheating on him with his best friend, yet he is fine with the three of them all living together in a house. To me this either indicates a bit of laziness on the filmmaker’s part or they expected the audience not to be smart enough to notice.

The Bye Bye Man had some pretty well known cast members. The Bye Bye Man himself was played by the much beloved Doug Jones (Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth). The cast also included the likes of Carrie Anne Moss (The Matrix, Chocolat) and Faye Dunaway (Bonnie and Clyde, Chinatown). The one problem with these three big talents was they were vastly underutilized. I was mostly disappointed by the lack of use of Jones. He is such an amazing actor, especially when in elaborate prosthetics, yet in most scenes Jones was merely standing in the shadows. Since these three actors are more well known, it only makes sense they likely were paid fairly well, despite the size of the roles they were in. With so much of the film budget going towards people who were barely in the film, it appears that the remaining budget was barely enough to cover the lead actors and the CGI.

The three leads were sadly another negative aspect of this film. Douglas Smith (Miss Sloane, Big Love) played the loving boyfriend, Elliot. There were times when his performance was passable, but then he would deliver a line that felt so over the top some audience members laughed. His best friend, John, was played by Lucien Laviscount (Scream Queens, Honeytrap). I have seen Laviscount on season one of Scream Queens and thought he was a good actor. In this film it seemed like he was overacting a bit, much like Smith. Cressida Bonas (Doctor Thorne) played the girlfriend, Sasha. Since this was Bonas’s first feature film, and one of her first acting projects, I am willing to be a bit more forgiving. My biggest concern with her performance is that there were many times when I could hear her English accent coming through when she was playing an American student. It seems likely the acting was flawed due to a combination of factors; lack of experience, poor direction, and an underdeveloped screenplay.

The CGI in The Bye Bye Man appears to be more comparable to a SyFy channel film than a film that has a wide theatrical release. In one scene that can be viewed in the trailer, the Bye Bye Man makes a character see maggots on another character. It looks like virtually no effort was put into making the maggots appear realistic or look like they are actually coming out of the person’s body. That is just one example of the unfortunate effects throughout the film. The “dog” sidekick of the Bye Bye Man is another CGI disaster. Not only are the effects poorly executed, but the creature design also leaves much to be desired. It’s not quite a monster, it’s not quite a real animal, and I’m still not sure why it was even in the film.

When I think to some of the basics of the plot, I see something that could have been great. I love the idea of the evil called the Bye Bye Man. I also love the “don’t think it don’t say it” catchphrase and how the Bye Bye Man gains his power. Perhaps if the film had spent more time learning about the villain himself, as opposed to seeing his effects on the three students, the story would have held the interest of viewers. I went into this film expecting it to be bad, but at least somewhat creepy. The fact that I went home to an empty house at night and was not even remotely scared speaks volumes about the film. As much as it pains me to say it, The Bye Bye Man is already in the running for one of the worst horror films of 2017.

OVERALL RATING: 3/10