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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

Feb 26, 2018

The Shape Of Water Movie Review: Overrated Film That Shows Water Does Not Really Have Any Shape At All

‘THE SHAPE OF WATER’ has the most number of nominations in the coming Oscar Awards, but it was topped in the British Academy Awards by “Three Billboard Outside Ebbing, Missouri”. We honestly don’t like both films that much, particularly “Shape of Water”.

Directed by Guillermo del Toro (“Pan’s Labyrinth”, “Pacific Rim”) with a decided romantic streak, it opens with a woman dreamily floating underwater, giving a magical other worldly image to emphasize the film’s tone of unabashed romanticism. The narrator is Richard Jenkins, who’s nominated as Oscar best supporting actor, and he tells about “a princess without a voice”.

That princess is Elisa (Sally Hawkins) a mute and lonely cleaning woman who works in a secret government lab in Baltimore. The story is set in 1962, with the Cold War and the space race as background. The manager in the underground laboratory is a sadistic racist, Strickland (Michael Shannon), who acts like he owns the place. Their company has a secret, a siokoy or merman, whom
they call the Asset.

It was found in the Amazon in South America where it’s worshipped as a god. Now, it’s held captive inside a tank and occasionally tortured by Shannon. A sympathetic scientist, Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg, the father of Timothee Chalamet in “Call Me by Your Name”) is very kind to the creature.

He reminds Shannon that the creature should be studied in their scientific experiments and not killed by the ruthless Shannon, but it turns out that he himself has his own deep dark secret. The mute Elisa is curious and later becomes friendly with the creature who happens to like hard boiled eggs and is fond of music. He warms up to her and she even teaches him sign language.

The film has outstanding production design. Elisa’s flat is on top of a cavernous movie theatre and green is its dominant color, with the water in the tub, where she is shown masturbating every morning, also colored green. The underground laboratory is also well designed, you can almost feel its dampness and dank odor.

At the office, Elisa’s best friend is Zelda (Octavia Spencer), a cleaner like her, while at her apartment, it’s his gay neighbor, Giles (Richard Jenkins), an artist who loves cats, pies, and old movie musicals. Elisa teams up with Giles in doing some tap dance routines.

The film’s overall point is the importance of tolerance over marginalized folks. The creature who is brutally treated is not only equated with the black couple who are told they cannot sit on the counter of a diner, but also with the gay Giles (who’s rebuffed by a diner waiter who he thought is being extra friendly to him) and the voiceless Elisa. It shows that such prejudice happens not only in the real world but also in a fairy tale one.

The film’s second half concerns Elisa’s effort to save the creature so she can bring him to the ocean and regain his freedom like “Free Willy”, with the help of Zelda and Giles. She makes him stay in her own apartment and they even have sex.

The script becomes very contrived, jarringly shifting in tone to accommodate some very violent scenes. It turns into a thriller but it actually drags at this point and the movie’s running time becomes longer than necessary. The villain is even shown having a nude sex scene with his wife.

You’d really wonder why Sally Hawkins is getting lavish praises as Elisa. For what? For learning
sign language and doing a full frontal scene and practicing onanism in the tub and indulging in interspecies romance? She even gets to use her hands in describing how the fish man’s genitalia works. She’s actually better in the 2015 film “Maudie”, where she played a folk artist who works as a maid for Ethan Hawke.

Even Octavia Spencer is nominated anew for being a sassy cleaner when she actually didn’t do anything much. But Shannon as the ferocious brute of a contravida is totally ignored. Ultimately, the movie has some good elements, but they never quite come together the way you’d hope they’d do and you realize that the shape of water does not really have any shape at all.