Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

The Shape of Water ****

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 24th February, 2018

The Shape of WaterMonsters have never been my thing, whether in books or in films, so I approached Guillermo del Toro’s latest movie, The Shape of Water, with a degree of scepticism. Not only does the “monster” — actually a scaly, aquatic creature with a distinctly handsome, human face — not speak, but neither does the mute (but not deaf) young Hispanic cleaner, Elisa, who falls in love with him. She works in a secret US installation that is up to its eyes in Cold War scheming against the Soviets, the Americans annoyed at being beaten by the Russians in the race into space. It’s 1962 and both misogyny and racial prejudice rule among the alpha white males of the installation, not least the man who is tormenting the poor captured creature, brought in from the Amazon where indigenous peoples had revered him as a river god. At this point the film morphs into a fairy tale, full of mystery and not a little humour, punctuated by outbursts of sudden violence. The period atmosphere is beautifully recreated, from the glorious Cadillacs in a car showroom to the tacky advertisements in magazines and on television. At times the narrative heads off into pure fantasy, allowing the director to indulge in some agreeable referencing of multiple film genres, from black-and-white dance spectaculars to John  Le Carré style spy thrillers. Sally Hawkins as Elisa is genuinely affecting and one empathises enough with her predicament to forgive some of the implausible strands of the plot, though objectively speaking, much of it is tosh. Yet somehow the film is intriguing enough to hold one’s attention. As the story progresses, one increasingly feels that good must win out in a context where so much evil is present — though the dénouement is far from predictable.


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