February 14, 2018

The Shape of Water: Monster Meets Girl in Romantic Science Fiction Fantasy

By Kam Williams

The Shape of Water is clearly a favorite in this year’s Oscar sweepstakes. The science fiction fantasy about love across species lines was nominated for 13 Academy Awards, in six major categories: Best Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Lead Actress (Sally Hawkins), Supporting Actress (Octavia Spencer), and Supporting Actor (Richard Jenkins).

Writer/director Guillermo del Toro was apparently inspired by Creature from the Black Lagoon, a classic horror film from the 50s. This variation on the theme portrays the merman as being misunderstood instead of evil.

The story is set in Baltimore in 1962, and opens inside a top secret government laboratory. There, a half-fish/half-human creature (Doug Jones) is being kept under wraps in a giant vat of gelatinous, green soup by Colonel Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon). Strickland discovered the primordial monster in the Amazon and brought it to his lab to study.

Strickland mistreats the creature because he lost two fingers when he was capturing it. Marine biologist Dr. Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg) has been ordered to study its unusual lungs. The plot thickens when two cleaning ladies Elisa (Hawkins) and Zelda (Spencer) discover the classified amphibian in its vat.

Elisa is a lonely mute with not much going on in her life. To her, the merman is better than no man at all. Since they are both mutes, she is able to establish a means of communicating with the creature. Friendship turns into mutual attraction and it gradually blossoms into love.

Anything can happen when you’re dealing with magical realism. Some other examples of this otherworldly genre are Black Swan, Birdman, and del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth. While this critic generally prefers pictures solidly grounded in reality, The Shape of Water certainly is engaging and visually captivating and is recommended for open-minded fans of the supernatural.

Very Good (***). Rated R for violence, profanity, sexuality, and nudity. Running time: 123 minutes. Production Studios: Double Dare You Productions/Bull Productions/TSG Entertainment. Distributor: Fox Searchlight.