Guillermo del Toro

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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Crimson Peak

Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) has seen ghosts since she was ten years old. On her first encounter with a ghost, she was warned to stay away from a place called Crimson Peak. Years later, she meets a handsome baronet from England named Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston). After a tragedy, Edith marries Thomas and moves into his decaying family mansion in England along with his sister, Lucille (Jessica Chastain). Edith soon realizes the place she was warned about as a child has now become her only home, and there are many ghosts within its walls.

Guillermo del Toro is one of my favorite directors. He has a masterful way of blending dynamic characters, haunting imagery, and completely unique looking creatures. Crimson Peak is another success. Probably the most successful aspect was how visually stimulating and stunning the entire film is. This is evidenced when Edith moves to England with the Sharpes. The mansion they live in is quite literally falling apart. It is unnerving and beautiful all at the same time. The house sits on deposits of red clay that seeps through the floors and the walls of the house’s lower levels. It makes it appear as though the house is bleeding. The director has essentially made the house another character in the film. The red clay seeping into the pure white snow is also a very vivid image. It alludes to the blood that has been spilled on this land.

Even the costume design added to the fantastic imagery. The costumes alone were quite beautiful, but the focus on color adds a certain depth. Edith, who is full of life and innocence, typically is seen wearing some kind of white, beige, or yellow dress. This makes her stand out against the darkness of the house and the blood red of the clay that oozes from the walls. By contrast, both Thomas and Lucille wear very dark colors. It is almost as if their clothes are meant to show Thomas and Lucille’s connection to the house. This is especially clear with Lucille’s wardrobe. She primarily wears a blue dress that is so dark it is almost black. She almost blends in with the house as if she is one with it.

This film had an original story that actually kept me on the edge of my seat. It is a mystery being slowly unraveled as Edith follows the clues being laid out for her. It’s always a good sign when I’m not constantly guessing what will happen before it occurs in the movie. That isn’t to say there weren’t some things that seemed fairly obvious early on in the film. It was more that the way everything was revealed kept it interesting, even if you knew what was coming. Some may feel that the film moved rather slowly. I will concede that based on the trailer, the film looked like it was going to be filled with non-stop intense scares. There was plenty of intensity and definitely some great scares, some that even happen very early on, but the film definitely focuses more on the mystery side of things as well as character development (which is very important in a film like this).

All three of the leads in this film were absolutely flawless. Mia Wasikowska (Alice in Wonderland) was perfectly cast as Edith. She gives an air of youthful innocence yet she is independent and very intelligent. Wasikowska also excelled at portraying her character as terrified of the ghosts that haunt her, but also knowing she has to solve the mysteries surrounding these ghosts. I couldn’t imagine anyone else playing Thomas Sharpe except Tom Hiddleston (The Avengers). Hiddleston somehow manages to appear charmingly lovable and utterly sinister all at the same time. I don’t believe any other actor could achieve this. Finally, there is Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty). It is clear from her past work that she is a talented actress. Until now, I never knew how disturbing she could be. The only acting that I was not convinced by came from Charlie Hunnam (Sons of Anarchy). I usually enjoy his acting, but his delivery in this film just fell a bit flat.

Yet another amazing aspect of this film was the various special effects. Guillermo del Toro is known for his amazing use of CGI. The look created for the ghosts was disgusting, frightening, and beautiful all at once. What I was even more surprised about was the use a practical effects. This film had some rather brutal scenes of violence, which I did not even remotely expect, with gorgeous practical effects for the wounds. There is one particularly graphic scene that takes place just before Edith goes to England that blew me away.

There are so many amazing aspects of Crimson Peak. This film was dark, intense, scary, mysterious, and sexy. It has pretty much everything you could ask for in a great ghost film that actually has substance. While it was a truly thrilling movie, there are some things that keep it from being perfect. The biggest being simply that the trailer leads you to believe the film relies much more heavily on scaring you with ghosts than it really does. This is one thing that will likely upset many viewers. Personally, the fact that this film had an edge-of-your-seat mystery makes up for the fact that the ghosts were more used as clues rather than ways to terrify you. It is still one of my favorite films so far this year. I truly hope that this will lead to Guillermo del Toro writing and directing more horror films.

OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10