Remember The Mummy? No, not the campy yet kind of enjoyable Brendan Fraser film, but the recent one, starring Tom Cruise. I don’t blame you, it was shit. But it had a purpose. The Mummy was supposed to kickstart Universal’s “Dark Universe” starring their famous lot of monsters. One of those monsters is the Creature from the Black Lagoon, and a story was pitched by none other than visionary director Guillermo del Toro, the kind of director that could give the whole “Dark Universe” nonsense some real street cred. But Universal didn’t like his idea and so he took his vision and created The Shape of Water, which ended up being the most nominated film of the 2018 Academy Awards. And while Universal definitely lost out, did we audiences gain anything?
True to form, The Shape of Water is visually striking. del Toro has always been an auteur when it comes to production design, and his vision of 1960’s America is done in a way that is familiar but also unmistakably his. The audience has no issues with thinking a mysterious river creature could inhabit this surreal yet believable world. The film is very CGI heavy, but the design of the sets and the way it was filmed make the CG elements integrate seamlessly. And the sound design, oh so important for creature flicks, is also top notch, adding yet another layer of immersion. Of course, for a del Toro film, one expects no less, and we are not left disappointed.
While the production aspects of The Shape of Water are all excellent, the story is another matter, and is where the cracks start to show. It’s not that the story is bad, it’s just very basic and something that has been told many times before. And as great as it looks and sounds, that wasn’t enough to keep me from getting kind of bored. The characters were generally flat, with very little character development across the length of the story. Yes, the protagonists learn to accept the creature instead of fear it, but that’s standard fairy tale fair. Creating a fantastic world is one thing, having a story that keeps us interested in it is something else all together and in that aspect The Shape of Water falls flat. The story beats are predictable, the the twist obvious from the get go. There are a couple of imaginative sequences that manage to hold your attention, but for the most part, this film just kind of exists. It’s Malibu Stacy with a new hat; the novelty wears off pretty quickly.
Del Toro has called this film his most adult film to date, but it’s deeply rooted in standard children’s fairy tales. His stylistic stamp is as fantastic as always, but at this point in my life that’s not enough. I need a bit more substance with my style. If nothing else, The Shape of Water shows me that del Toro is into some pretty kinky shit.