The Shape of Water (15) Review

Chris Wilkinson reviews the Oscar front-runner from Guillermo Del Toro

Chris Wilkinson
27th February 2018
Image: YouTube

At certain times I lie awake at night and stare into the darkness looking to find an answer to certain questions. In which direction will my life go? Will I ever have children? What will come after death? On Thursday night I lay awake, haunted by a single question. How was The Shape of Water nominated for 13 Oscars? As with the other questions, the darkness has given no reprieve.

You may have noticed already, but The Shape of Water has caused quite a stir recently in the world of cinema, sweeping nominations from the Venice Film festival to the Oscars and seemingly snowballing in critical acclamation along the way. Indeed, many are saying that it is one of the most beautiful and enthralling films of all time.

The plot: Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins) is a mute cleaner working in a clandestine government facility sterilising laboratory equipment in the late 1950s. Her usual undisturbed daily routine is then broken by a new arrival in the facility, a mysterious ‘asset’ escorted by the distinctly un-mysterious Colonel Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon). Elisa then builds a relationship with this South American fish-man, and so the film proceeds.

At the very core of the film is the theme of alienation - Elisa’s life pangs with it. Her best friend at home is a repressed gay man, her best friend at work is an oppressed black woman. Social rejection has found its way into every facet of her life. Strickland, in contrast, is a white male in a nuclear family who works for the government, says things like ‘sinful’ and quotes the Bible, jokes with his boss about his ‘pussy finger’, and is generally an American Candy chewing alpha-male, who is sexually aggressive and extremely unpleasant. You can see there might be some confrontation looming.

It would be hard not to be on the side of Eliza, but there is something about this film which seemed cheap. I thought that, maybe, it is because I have never seen a film so indirectly influenced by video games. Guillermo Del Toro is himself directing the game ‘death stranding’ along with hideo kojima, and there are some irresistable comparisons to be made between this film and the Bioshock and Fallout franchises. But the simplicity of plot and character which can be made to work in a video game is very hard to transfer to the big screen.The distinctions made between Hawkins’ character and Shannon’s therefore were, to me, a little too much like a fight between two caricatures.

There is something to be said, however, for their performances. Hawkins has been nominated for Best Actress - you have never seen more emotive eyes in your life - and Shannon steals each scene he is in. There is also something to be said for the cinematography, which has deservedly been praised. For example the filming is constantly in a fluid motion, passing around its subjects as if like ripples in water, and the events of the film charge through with no time spare time for filler.

It is infuriating to see a film so fastidiously made about a plot that is comically unrelatable. The result is a film abundantly full of life, but confused about it’s own existence.

I am completely stumped as to why this film has recieved such a reception. The dialogue is horrendous, even its soundtrack, for which it has recently won a BAFTA, is not that good. In a sort of closing statement, the only thing I would ask for is that if you watch this film, please look through the cloud of praise that has set over it, so that you might not drown in an ocean of disappointment like I did.

Rating: 2/5

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