The Shape Of Water (2017). Directed by Guillermo Del Toro. Starring Sally Hawkins, Richard Jenkins, Michael Shannon, Doug Jones and Octavia Spencer.
The Creature From The Black Lagoon meets Amelie by way of glossy Douglas Sirk-lite melodrama in a heavily stylised version of 1950’s Baltimore for a tale which sets itself up as a romantic fable about outsiders finding love but really is just hell bent on cartoonishly criticising every single aspect of a repressive society.
Nothing much has changed goes the rallying cry behind Guillermo Del Toro’s film and yet the transparently on the nose way in which he shoehorns maltreatment of literally every “othered” group possible into his fantastical narrative leads to a confused whole which doesn’t ever manage to do more than tread water (albeit rather beautifully).
Michael Shannon’s outsize personification of toxic white masculinity writ large looms over the whole story – fetishising over those very qualities which cast people out from conservative, suburban society – the hate he feels for the diversity he sees around him turning his gangrenous body into a traitor.
I don’t disagree with the sentiment behind any of this at all but the remarkably unsubtle treatment it is all given in the screenplay gets up your nose like water when you plunge unexpectedly into a canal. The crassness may well be there to act as a thematic counterpoint to the romance and kinship among the downtrodden masses but it leaves a bitter taste and helps to create a narrative which threatens to drown in its own complexity.
Sally Hawkins is absolutely wonderful (far better than the film she inhabits) as she epitomises the questing humanity behind the minority spirit – doing the little she can to fight for a more equal world – but all the espionage nonsense involving warm-hearted Russian spies and vile US Army officers comes across as really low-rent propaganda.
However, if your name is Guillermo Del Toro, you are due an Oscar and you fill your gorgeous looking movie full of visual references to the Golden Age of the Silver Screen then perhaps no-one will notice.