I should start by saying that I’ve never responded to a Guillermo del Toro movie–not even Pan’s Labyrinth. Given the hype around The Shape of Water and what I had heard about it, I was hoping this would be the movie to turn things around for me and Guillermo. Alas.
Less than thirty minutes in, I turned to my husband and whispered “there is nothing subtle about this movie, is there?” The rest of the movie bears that thought out. There is one character whose shifty loyalties and conscience make him a complex person, but otherwise there are no shades of grey to be found anywhere: you’re either a cartoonish bad guy or an eccentric hero.
Having seen Guillermo del Toro movies before, everything also felt very predictable to me. <spoilers> Within the first thirty minutes I said to myself “I bet Elisa dies in the end, but then it’s ambiguous about whether or not she comes back to have a happy life with the creature.” I was right. As soon as Strickland’s fingers were reattached in such a suspect way (btw, was a little gauze really the best way to bandage that? No cast or splint?), I knew he was going to rip them off again in some gruesome way–the only question was at what point of the movie. I did not see Hoffstetler getting shot through the cheek like he did, but when it happened I was reminded of the cheek-stabbing in Pan’s Labyrinth. How many times are people going to get weird cheek injuries in a del Toro movie?</spoilers>
When I saw The Post, criticism had already sprung up that it was too heavyhanded, so I was surprised by how subtle I found it to be. I would argue that The Shape of Water is much more heavyhanded than The Post. I would say that The Shape of Water is so heavyhanded that it becomes hopelessly clumsy.
The performances are great–particularly Octavia Spencer and especially Richard Jenkins. The art direction and cinematography are sublime, but I always feel that a del Toro movie is stylish first and everything else comes second or not at all.
Perhaps someday there will be a Guillermo del Toro movie that charms me as much as it charms everyone else. But I’m still waiting.