The Zombie of the Veil: The Shape of Water

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Sarah Hood

Like most folks, I grew up on Mother Goose and Disney fairy tales, the prince rescuing the princess, destroying evil, all that jazz. As I grew older, I gravitated towards the Brothers Grimm version of those fairy tales; the darker, sinister fairy tales that drove home morals and warnings pretty hard. When I see Hollywood come out with a movie they say is based on a fairy tale or looks like it’s based on one I just roll my eyes because it’ll be the same, boring dreg: the prince saves the princess and destroys the evil while the woman swoons. When the first snippet of Guillermo Del Toro’s The Shape of Water came out I jumped on it, I love anything by Guillermo Del Toro from his directing to his writing. I love the sheer fact that he can go from directing a visually stunning science fiction action film (Pacific Rim) to directing a jaw-droppingly beautiful gothic romance told as a ghost story (Crimson Peak.) Those are just a small blip of what he’s done so when I heard he was directing/ writing another movie I got really excited. Then excitement mounted when I finally saw a trailer.

There was a lot of speculations on The Shape of Water. Many fans of Hellboy wondered could this be Abe Sapien’s origin story; Guillermo quietly calmed those rumors by stating this was something completely different. Though an I’m sure an Abe Sapien origin movie would be amazing I’m glad it wasn’t that. It’s rare to see reverse fairy tales in Hollywood, the woman is the hero and saves the day. It’s even rarer when the person the woman is saving is a monster that doesn’t have a curse on it that turns it back into a handsome man. I think there should be more reverse fairy tales, spice up the Hollywood.

The Shape of Water stars Sally Hawkins, Octavia Spencer, Doug Jones and Richard Jenkins. The movie is set in 1960s Baltimore during the Cold War and opens in a watery dreamscape that starts out talking about the princess without voice. We are soon introduced to Elisa Esposito who we learn is mute and works at a secret government base as a night janitor with Zelda, who acts as her interpreter when Elisa ‘speaks.’ Elisa spends her nights working cleaning and her days with her other close friend Gils, a closeted gay artist trying to get back into the work force. While cleaning one day the scientists bring in a tank and start to clear the room, Elisa draws close to the tank and discovers that the contents of the tank is a humanoid amphibian. After an incident with the Monster attacking the colonel of the base, Richard Strickland, and Elisa witnessing Strickland’s horrible treatment of the creature Elisa begins to visit it in secret.

I’m going to glaze over the beginning of the movie as vaguely as possible because I feel that words don’t do this movie justice. Everything about this movie is beautiful from the acting, the way Sally Hawkins brings the character Elisa alive without ever speaking a single word, to the sets that take you straight back to America in the 60s and puts you in that mindset of “Us vs the Russians” in trying to beat them in the space race. While this is a horror movie in a true Guillermo fashion there is very, very little blood in it but it still has scenes that make you squirm in your seat from discomfort. Many elements of the Universal Monster The Creature from the Black Lagoon have been slipped in this, it’s not by accident as Guillermo is a fan of the old school movies and his memories of being a young child and seeing the Gill-man and wanting the romance between Gill-man and Julie Adams’ romance to succeed. Many parts of the story I was drawn in during the scenes where Elisa and the Creature are on screen, the music and atmosphere add to this romance as they both look at each other and convey their emotions and thoughts, no words needed.

This movie has hit with plenty of critics and I can see why. It’s a fresh take on an old fairy tale, our heroine is mute but none the less brave as any male character she shares the screen with. The side characters are diverse and with their own stories and struggles. Octavia Spencer shines during every bit of screen time she gets. Richard Jenkins’ character plays the voice of reason and logic to our heroine but sees the love between the Creature and Elisa and understand their struggle. Even a character you would think is a bad guy support Elisa’s want of freeing the creature. I would love to see more done with the story of Elisa and the Creature but at the same time I feel that a sequel would take away from the beauty of this movie. If Guillermo does decide to do a sequel to The Shape of Water I hope it’s another stand alone story instead of a continuation.

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