Sunday, December 31, 2017

Movie Review: The Shape of Water

I almost didn't write a review for The Shape of Water, since the main thing I want to say can be summed up as, "Go see the damned movie."

Sorry - no need for cursing.

But if you drop by Rotten Tomatoes anywhere near as often as I do, you already knew it was good. The movie's been critically embraced and widely celebrated by fans of genre and film. It's not for everyone (I heard confused grumbling sounds from some of the audience), but I think a pretty safe litmus test is if you're reading a review on a site as geeky as this one, it's for you.

While there's actually a great deal more I could say, most of it's in the realm of analysis, not review. This movie begs to be analyzed in depth, poured over by film students, and discussed over bottles of wine. Draw a Venn diagram with circles representing art films and geeky genre movies, and you'll find The Shape of Water dead center in the overlap.

That doesn't even touch on the nature of genres. It's well publicized that this is a mash-up of monster movies in the Universal mold with classic romance flicks, so there's no sense trying to keep that quiet. In the hands of a different director, that might have come across as superficial or gimmicky, but del Toro weaves a story out of these conventions organically. The premise, setting, design, characters, tone, and theme all fit together. This isn't a monster movie or a romance with a twist; it's a complete and unified story constructed from the pieces of multiple genres, as well as all too real history and current events. It's a movie that has something to say.

It's difficult to overstate del Toro's mastery. He's working in a drastically different style and tone than, say, Pan's Labyrinth. This is a movie set in a world of old movies, almost closer in spirit to Wes Anderson than most of what we've seen from del Toro. But it never feels like del Toro's out of his depth - this is as brilliantly realized a film as any he's made.

That's not to say it's perfect. As a storyteller, del Toro's biggest weakness has always been his characters. They tend to be good, but rarely (if ever) great. Sally Hawkins picks up the slack - her Elisa may be the best character to headline a del Toro movie - but some side characters feel underwritten and misused. It's not a major issue, but I think it's the one area the movie doesn't excel.

Still, this is an absolutely fantastic film that will rival Pan's Labyrinth as del Toro's best and (in all probability) most reflected upon work. I suspect movie lovers will devote a great deal of time debating which is his masterpiece. At least until he makes something else.

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