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John’s Horror Corner: The Shape of Water (2017), the romantic, contemporized retelling of Revenge of the Creature (from the Black Lagoon) that won Best Picture.

April 9, 2018

MY CALL: Guillermo del Toro’s heartwarming, Oscar-sweeping film depicting a relationship between a mute woman and a fish man captured in the Amazon. If that sentence doesn’t win you over, I’m not sure what will. MOVIES LIKE The Shape of Water: Above all, I’d say Hellboy (2004) and Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008), followed by Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) for more of del Toro’s dark fantasy and The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) to return to the unofficial root of it all.

Richard Jenkins gently narrates an overview of this unlikely love story as our senses are dazzled by surreal aquatic dreamscapes surrounding Elisa (Sally Hawkins; Godzilla, Never Let Me Go). Very kind, mute and meek, Elisa tends to her friendly neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins; The Cabin in the Woods, Let Me In, Bone Tomahawk) and works nights cleaning in a research facility with Zelda (Octavia Spencer; Halloween II, Drag Me to Hell). Their respective character dynamics are outstanding.

The set design is almost drably paletted, but so enriched by aquatic blues and greens that disperse themselves across the walls and wardrobes to the lighting itself. And beautifully complementing this dark modern fairy tale is a twinkling score that spurs curiosity and fantasy. Elegant it is, but sexuality veils this tale, along with imagery of water and Elisa’s own desires. Everything remains tactful and necessary with the nudity, for example, never feeling dirty… just human, vulnerable, sensual.

Our villain is Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon; Take Shelter, Bug), the man who brought the creature from the Amazon—making this something of a contemporized retelling of Revenge of the Creature (1955), which chronicles the capture, study and escape of the amphibious Creature from the Black Lagoon. But written (in part) and directed by contemporary horror visionary Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy 1-2, Pan’s Labyrinth, Crimson Peak, Pacific Rim, Mimic) and with the creature-characterizing skill of Doug Jones (Ouija: Origin of Evil, Hellboy 1-2) combining Hellboy’s (2004) Abe Sapien and The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), it is a swallowable stretch recrafting it into a love story. Speaking of which, watch out for the paralleled use of eggs and classical music to broker friendship and then wonder if this isn’t simultaneously presenting the warm-hearted Abe Sapien’s origin story.

Our creature’s design is interesting, and his abilities aren’t fully explained. He’s clearly more monstrous (at least, not yet civilized or educated) than Abe, a tad more fantastic (rather than sci-fi in nature), and occasional animalistic (e.g., the cat-eating scene). We have just enough blood to feel dire, but nothing skirting the boundaries we’d expect from an R-rated creature flick. Like the nudity and sexuality, the blood and violence are executed appropriately for this genre-crossing theme.

This R-rated romantic dark fantasy is nothing less than enchanting. Relationships throughout the film are flawed but oh so real, and seeing Elisa communicate with the creature is warming.

If you aren’t convinced and need a second opinion, check out Mark’s review.

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