Wednesday, 21 March 2018

The Shape of Water ★★★★☆

Before we look at one of the year’s most talked about films, I should mention that spoilers lurk beneath the depths of this review. If you haven’t seen The Shape of Water yet and want to go in blind, do not read this review. You have been warned!

I’m not the first person to say this and I certainly won’t be the last. When I was watching The Shape of Water, something peculiar occurred to me. Underneath all of the beautiful imagery, gorgeous score and incredible acting, something was happening on screen. I leaned back into my chair and smiled to myself. Del Toro had managed the impossible. He had made something so bizarre seem so normal, so serious, so moving. He was awarded the Oscar for it. He touched our hearts with a film that features a woman rescuing a fish-man from captivity, and subsequently shagging him. Yes, a woman shags a fish.

Swimming away with 4 Oscars, The Shape of Water might just be the most bizarre Best Picture winner in the history of the Academy Awards. I’m not saying the film doesn’t deserve the praise, or indeed the awards. But we cannot ignore the fact that the film’s heroine is a fish-fucking janitor. Set in the early 1960s, we follow Elisa (Sally Hawkins) - a lonely mute woman who works as a cleaner for a top-secret facility in Baltimore. One day, she discovers a humanoid amphibian creature (Doug Jones) in a tank at the facility, and finds his living conditions to be a little nasty. After befriending the equally speechless creature, she decides to rescue him with the help of her charming closeted neighbour Giles (Richard Jenkins). They manage to get him back to Elisa’s apartment building, where he promptly beheads one of Giles’ cats and Elisa inexplicably decides to shag him in the bathroom. But wait! There’s a deranged military official on the hunt for the creature (a full-on Michael Shannon).

Okay, so maybe my brief rundown of the film misses out the film’s subtlety and beauty. I don’t want this review to sound negative, because the film is bloody good. We’ll get to why in a moment. But I just cannot accept the premise. Whether I was lonely or not, if I’d just taken an amphibian man out of a top-secret research facility, my first thought wouldn’t be to jump into bed with him. What if he impregnated her with monster babies, or killed her in an ecstatic state of sexual frenzy? She’s a bloody idiot to think having sex with him is a good idea, especially after she just saw him eat the head off a fucking cat. And even if she did decide to embark on this peculiar randy odyssey, did we, the audience, need to know? We don’t see Belle talking about getting it on with the Beast, so why do we need to see Elisa explain to her friend through sign-language how a fish-man’s dick works?

But this is Del Toro, and as I said at the beginning of my review, he makes it seem perfectly normal while you’re watching it. It’s only if you take a step back and really think about what you’re seeing, the bizarre nature of the film comes to light. But either way, it’s a great film. The visuals and production design are truly something to behold, Alexandre Desplat’s score is beautiful and the acting – from Hawkins, Jenkins, Shannon, Octavia Spencer and Michael Stuhlbarg – is sublime.

The Shape of Water is absolutely worth a watch. Is it the best film of the year? Not in my books. That award is bestowed upon Call Me By Your Name. But The Shape of Water is certainly the best film to look at, and the most brave and unique choice by the Academy in some time. To all those people who criticise the Academy for being elitist and only awarding films about slavery or disability, 2018 will always go down in history as the year they awarded the film about the woman who fucks fish.
The Shape of Water is one of the most original films you’ll see this year.

Sam Love

The Shape of Water at CeX

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