Friday, December 1, 2017

Movie with Abe: The Shape of Water

The Shape of Water
Directed by Guillermo Del Toro
Released December 1, 2017

Most people think of monster movies as needing to be scary. Horror is the most conventional format in which creatures of unknown and supernatural origin appear, and they usually seek to destroy those in their path, especially the humans that fear them. Yet some visionaries have a different image of what those many call monsters actually are, and present them as misunderstood victims in a fantasy-driven environment. The mind behind the mesmerizing “Pan’s Labyrinth” certainly knows this better than many, and now he’s created another fascinating look at the inner beauty hiding behind a far less friendly exterior.

Elisa (Sally Hawkins) works in the janitorial department of a government facility in 1960s Baltimore. Unable to speak, she communicates with her colleague Zelda (Octavia Spencer) and her neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins) via sign language. When a mysterious being is brought into the lab she cleans each day, Elisa sees it as something other than the threat to American livelihood that cruel interrogator Strickland (Michael Shannon) believes it to be, and sets out to ensure that this poor creature isn’t harmed by those more interested in winning the Cold War than being humane to something that isn’t human.

The same air of magic and wonder that defined “Pan’s Labyrinth” is on full display in this film, which isn’t nearly as dark but is definitely for adult audiences. The subtitles that interpret Elisa’s sign language show how she relates to the world, with Zelda and Giles serving as the only people who really acknowledge her existence. Their kindness stands in stark contrast to the way that Strickland coldly stomps out anything that threatens to get in his way, and the lab’s doctor (Michael Stuhlbarg) provides another perspective as he tries desperately not to have his research project cut short since he too believes that this creature is not the enemy others want it to be.

Hawkins, best-known for her extremely chatty and upbeat performance in “Happy-Go-Lucky,” is extraordinary as Elisa, silently conveying so much with her eyes, expressions, and physical actions. Jenkins is sweet and wonderful as a compassionate spirit, and Spencer manages to make Zelda a character all her own despite some likely similarities on paper to other recent roles she has had. Shannon is terrific as always in a role that he inhabits energetically and commands. The art direction and scenery are beautiful, and the film feels like a wondrous dream. Told as a sort of fairy tale, this film tells a lovely and imaginative story that sparkles on screen.


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