This movie is really weird. Like, really weird.
I knew what I was getting myself into. This was, after all, a fairy tale that only Guillermo del Toro could tell. I was absolutely expecting something along the lines of Pan’s Labyrinth. I wasn’t prepared for how lighthearted it would start and I was even less prepared for how dark it would get by the end.
On the surface, it’s billed as a movie about the love that spawns between a mute woman, played beautifully by Sally Hawkins, and a half-man, half-fish creature played by masterfully by Doug Jones. That story is there, but there are surprisingly other stories that Guillermo explores. The lives of the side-characters are explored from Michael Shannon’s boring, mundane, and extremely American home life, Richard Jenkin’s struggle as an artist and closeted homosexual in a 60s environment, Michael Stuhlbarg’s life as a scientist and a Soviet spy and Octavia Spencer’s unhappy marriage and struggles with her husband, though these are only mentioned briefly.
If the previous paragraph felt all over the place, then that’s what it felt watching this movie. The stories by themselves are interesting to watch, but when put together, they don’t really seem to do anything to enhance the main story. They are just stories that flesh out the world that exists in this fairy tale. Maybe they’re even Guillermo del Toro’s commentary on the America of today by moving the issues to a 60s setting.
As interesting as these stories are, they probably could have been cut or shortened to make room for the main story, which was lacking in certain areas. Sally Hawkins is a great actress in this role and Doug Jones does well in playing essentially the Creature from the Black Lagoon. I never really felt that they were in love, though. Sure I believed that Hawkins was in love with the creature, but I never felt that the creature loved her back or was anything more than an animalistic beast. I never felt there was intelligence in his actions and I definitely never felt that he loved her.
The Shape of Water is a strange movie and it embraces its strangeness wholeheartedly. It is a movie that is done skillfully and it’s a movie that could have only been told by Guillermo del Toro. It’s just a shame that the story wasn’t more cohesive and certain elements wasn’t worked on a bit more to make this a really original and truly great movie about love and acceptance.