“The Shape of Water” film review

Absolutely enchanting! Guillermo Del Toro’s The Shape of Water is a beautiful modern fairy tale told through a classical means. From the provocative first scene to the endearing final moments, this film explores the human condition in an innovative way that highlights the spirits of kindness, generosity, and love. In a film that could have so easily played out like many other-worldly science-fiction love stories, this story demonstrates the power of cinematic storytelling full of brilliantly developed characters and excellent direction from Del Toro. Positively gripping. The Shape of Water provides audiences with a fresh perspective on the “monster movie” genre by taking you on a whimsical journey into the belly of a government research facility during the Cold War where you meet characters you love and love to hate along the way. As with many of his other films, Del Toro once again crafts an imaginative experience through the creation of memorable characters grounded by solid writing, direction, and cinematography. It seems like “genre films” are becoming a thing of the past, because so many want to exist in multiple planes; however, for all the elements at its heart, The Shape of Water is a classic monster genre film but breaks new ground.

Elisa (Sally Hawkins) is a mostly isolated mute young lady who works in housekeeping at a remote, underground government research facility near Baltimore. With only her starving artist neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins) to keep her company at home and her close friend Zelda (Octavia Spencer) to watch over and speak for her at work, she leads a rather mundane life but longs for music, adventure, and romance. Taking place during the Cold War in 1962, Elisa’s encountered the strange and questionable over her time in and out of cleaning labs. Her nondescript life will be forever changed when she discovers the lab’s newest secret–a mysterious amphibian-like creature who lives in an aquarium tank. Over the days, Elisa feels compelled to visit the creature as the two of them develop a trusting bond. When the creature’s very life is at stake, Elisa must work quickly to construct a plan for his safe evacuation.

The Shape of Water has one of the most innovative openings to a film in that it juxtaposes a serene, calming yet mesmerizing sequence of underwater shots during the opening title sequence against a rather provocative first scene. Del Toro will successfully have your attention for the entirety of the film. It isn’t often that we get fairy-tale like narration at the beginning of a monster movie, and Del Toro’s choice for the beginning narration was absolutely perfect. It not only provided strategic exposition, but set the tone of the film. What we are about to watch may contain elements of monsters and mysteries, but it is a modern romantic fairy tale. Horror and science-fiction have often been used as conduits for filmmakers to explore the human condition and all its imperfections and growth; so by combining elements from both to create an innovative monster movie, Del Toro provides audiences with a fantastic opportunity to use the film’s diegesis as a mirror to our modern lives. Although the “beauty and the beast” style love story is central to the film, the film also comments on topics such as race, marriage, and class during the 1960s. There is also a side story that alludes to how members of the LGBTQ community were treated in the workplace and within the community. An incredibly comprehensive plot that never loses focus on the main story.

What an excellent cast! Sally Hawkins brings such endearing and powerful subtlety to her mute character. Her commitment to Elisa is so exquisite that you will swear that you can hear her voice through her sign language. Much in the same way we explored interspecies communication in last year’s Arrival, we witness just how the movement of hands and facial expressions know no bounds when establishing relationships with those with whom we cannot verbally communicate. In many ways, this movie is a combination of Beauty and the Beast, TV’s Swamp ThingArrival, and a little Creature from the Black Lagoon. Hawkins’ exceptional performance may very well land her an Oscar nomination, and quite possibly a win. Doug Jones’ creature is a brilliant combination of monster and lover. From the moment you encounter him, you will feel a human-like connection to his character. Like with Hawkins’ Elisa, Jones’ creature exhibits the power of subtlety. That seems to be a common element of this film: subtlety. So often the techniques of the pioneers of cinema are forgotten. Hitchcock proved over and over again that the camera itself can create suspense. Of course, he took many of his techniques from silent cinema where the camera was instrumental in visually communicating so much. Del Toro utilizes this power of the camera to not only visually create emotions but to work through actors to allow subtle powers of character to enhance the experience of this movie.

Beyond our central characters, Zelda (Octavia Spencer) and Giles (Richard Jenkins) have mini-movies of their own. And indirectly, their mini-movies have an impact on the larger story; however, these side stories never eclipse the central plot and only serve to bolster the overall experience. Spencer’s character enables audiences to explore marriage in the 1960s and Jenkins’s character provides a platform for discussion regarding how ostracized members of the LGBTQ community were before more modern times. There is also a scene where a classy looking black couple was denied seating at a diner. So many societal themes that can be used as a framework through which to understand the time in which this story takes place, and now the characters can be used to explore modern themes as well. Each and every chiefly supporting player has a significant impact upon the central diegesis of The Shape of Water. Del Toro took special care in integrating every element and making sure each aspect of the story was never just filler or for shock value. Each character, each scene, each camera angle moves the story forward.

The reality of love and relationships juxtaposed against an imaginative backdrop grounded in a literal view of life in the 1960s comprise this world created by Guillermo Del Toro. Whether you enjoy an excellent monster movie or old-fashioned romance, you will enjoy The Shape of Water. The brilliance of this film can be found in how this modern fairy tale is told through classical means. I also enjoyed the references to classic Hollywood movie musicals and dramas that can each be seen in the plot of this film. No image is ever wasted in Del Toro’s film. If there is one negative critique, the second act is a little drawn out and could have been trimmed a little, and some added suspense would have been appreciated in the second act as well.

“Get Out” movie review

getoutThe epitome of the American horror film. Jordan Peele’s Get Out is an outstanding work of horror cinema, in that the American horror film is the best genre for creatively commentating on the various social, economic, and psychological constructs of life in such a way that can be visually thought-provoking. And the best part about this film is Peele does not pull out any of the usual horror tropes or clichés until the showdown. Before you begin to think that Universal Pictures and Blumhouse are pulling a bait-n-switch–selling you a psychological thriller when the film is really a heavy drama–think again. Get Out is every bit a horror film as its more traditional counterparts. In terms of its contribution to the library of horror films, the movie is flawless. From the writing to directing to acting and even the score, editing, and cinematography, Get Out is a film that you should definitely “get out” to watch. With a current 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, this film is certain to grab prolific attention from movie patrons, film studies, and social studies professors alike. It’s a brilliant film to discuss in future American horror film classes. Never before has a film been used in such a creative and visceral way to comment on how one culture appropriates the best of another for purposes of exploitation or simply because it has something that you want, and then attempt to change, assimilate, or remove altogether because that which you want is seen as wasted on the originator. “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.”

Most romantic relationships between two people enter the anxious “meet the parents” stage, and Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) and Rose’s (Allison Williams) 5-month relationship is no different. Rose takes Chris out of the city to visit her parents’ lavish country home along a peaceful lake. Rose’s parents Missy (Catherine Keener) and Dean (Bradley Whitford) are eager to meet their daughter’s boyfriend and welcome them with open arms, hugs, and tea. When her parents begin to be overly accommodating, Chris begins to think that there is a little more than meets the eye at Rose’s parents’ place. Whereas Chris’ first impression of Rose’s family and friends was just their nervous attempt to work through Chris and Rose’s interracial relationship, now he dreads that there is something unsettling going on. After encountering an old acquaintance of his who has changed to be quite peculiar, Chris’ goal is to get himself and his girlfriend to safety. During his investigation into her family and the uncomfortable actions of the hired help, Chris could never have imagined what he comes to find out. Truth can be scarier than fiction.

It is difficult to explore some of the themes and subtext of this film without giving too much away, but I’m going to try my best to analyze what I can without spoiling anything for those who plan to see the movie. The first element I took note of in the film was the choice of music. Not so much a score (although, there is a score to the film), the music selections in the film serve as an allusion to the overall message and theme in the film. For those who know a little something about music history, you may pick up on the strategic selection and placement of the various songs and musical scores used throughout the film. There are moments in which the music does not seem to match up with the mood or tone of the film–at least, at face value. However, as you delve deeper into the film, you will realize that the music fits in all too well with the plot. I’ll give you this: think about the origins of the music in the film when you watch it. Before music, such as jazz and hiphop, became popular amongst a predominantly white society, it originated amongst the black community.

Another aspect of the film that hints at the big reveal in the turning point just before the third act is the physique, athletic talent, and sexual stereotypes of black males. You’ll notice that clues are dropped here and there, albeit subtly, at the relationship between Rose’s family & friends and members of the black community. The worship of Chris’ body by many of Rose’s family friends makes for an incredibly uncomfortable sequence of encounters at the outdoor picnic. The unsettling weird encounters between Chris and all the people he meets at Rose’s family home each work to grow the level of tension and terror in the film–the fear of something dreadful looming on the horizon. Without relying upon a proliferation of jump scares and visceral horror, Peele successfully increases the level of anxiety to terrifying levels in the film. Reminiscent in the ways that Hitchcock or Kubrick may have directed this film–in terms of relying upon the fear of something not visible to the naked eye–Peele incorporates the feeling of uneasiness every moment he can without over saturating the plot. Perfect amount of all the elements that make up the American horror film can be found in this deeply disturbing narrative.

**Spoiler Alert** (you can skip to the last paragraph to avoid it)

In an effort to truly appreciate this brilliance of this film, it is necessary to disclose information that could potentially spoil the big reveal. Early in the film when Chris asked Rose if she ever dated a black guy before, she said that he was her first. This was in preparations for the trip to meet Rose’s parents. While on the tour of the home, Rose’s father mentioned a story of his dad losing in the Berlin Olympics to now famous Jesse Owens and commenting on how a black man beat a white man. Chris finds the commentary a little peculiar. Furthermore, during the first night there, Rose’s mom hypnotizes Chris to quit smoking–this sets up a plot device used later. Just before the third act, as tensions are extremely high (oh but don’t worry, they get higher), Chris stumbles across a box of photos of what look to be Rose and previous people she dated. He was not the first black guy she dated. Piecing together the fact that one of the picnic guests was an acquaintance of his from back in Brooklyn who no longer looked or acted the same way–much more white now–Chris urges Rose to leave with him.

Skipping ahead. Chris finds himself strapped to a chair and watching a video that is clearly meant to brainwash him. Many years ago, Rose’s family discovered a way to neurologically alter individuals to take what they want and leave that which was undesirable: malicious appropriation of bodies in order to serve as a vessel for individuals who saw themselves as elite. This is social commentary on how back males are often exploited for economic gain in areas such as football, basketball, track, and even music and fashion too. So, Peele was using this horror film to comment on how many in the white community have stolen from or appropriated elements from the black community in order to further their own gain or develop ways of entertaining the masses without proper acknowledgement, formal recognition, or even payment. For example, the jazz music at the beginning of the film. That style of music came out of black culture before it was rebranded high class white music for nightclubs, shows, and weddings. Further evidence of this social commentary can be found in other areas of talent that many want to steel for their own and then reprimand the black community or not being ‘more white.’ I could go on and on. Fascinating stuff!

**End Spoiler Info**

If you enjoy psychological thrillers that do not rely upon the usual tropes found in horror films similar to this one–on the surface level anyway–then “get out” to see Get Out this weekend. Although the runtime is a little longer than typical horror films (2hr 10min), the time will fly right by as you are glued to the seat and mesmerized at the combination of horror and deep sociological theming. Thought provoking, this film will prompt hours of discussions between friends and family who choose to go to the film together. As it is a horror film, do not plan to see it alone. Horror is the one genre that is best experienced in a group setting.

Written by R.L. Terry

Edited by J.M. Wead