Movie Review Monday

I hope my American friends are having an amazing Memorial Day weekend!

The Shape of Water (2017)

I really like Guillermo del Toro movies. He does such an amazing job of balancing stories and surprises. I’ve wanted to see The Shape of Water for a while, then when I found out it won some awards, I wanted to see it even more.

I’m not exactly sure how I feel about this film. I can certainly see why it won the awards it did. It’s a beautiful movie, with great use of colors, music, lighting, and camera angles. It touches on a lot of social issues, including racism, classism, and sexuality, among others.

The film also takes a common horror film trope and turns it on its head—well, sort of. It takes the notion of the monster being sympathetic and expands it (this is actually quite common in recent horror movies, so that’s why I say sort of).

If you’ve watched any classic monster movies, including The Mummy (1932), Dracula (1931), Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), etc., then you know there’s a notion that the monster is coming in to society to take the attractive women away. The monsters are dangerous and evil, and they must be vanquished by a hero, but there’s also a sense that they are misunderstood and lonely—if they only had the love of a good woman, they could turn their world around.

Sure, the monsters don’t necessarily go about wooing the woman in the right way. And they are a them instead of an us, so they have to be avoided/vanquished at all costs. The women are pawns in the game of love between the monster and the hero, so they rarely have a choice in who wins them, although social conventions say it has to be the human.

The Shape of Water takes that notion of the monster being lonely and misunderstood and runs with it. It shows us how sympathetic the monster can be and how it is treated unfairly and cruelly. As is typical of horror movies, there are characters who see the monster as nothing but a monster—a them—and do what is necessary to keep it in its place. But then there’s Elisa, who sees the monster as so much more.

This, of course, takes traditional horror movie tropes and flips them around. She’s not afraid of the monster. She doesn’t need to be rescued from it. She’s the one who does the rescuing.

I don’t want to give too much away for those of you who haven’t seen the film. I had no problems with the social issues the film portrays or the changing of the tropes, but while I was watching it, it felt weird to me. And as I’m writing this, I think the reason it felt weird is because it turns expectations on their head—a trait that del Toro is really, really good at.

The film is 123 minutes, and parts of it really felt like they dragged. If you had asked me right after watching The Shape of Water, I probably would have wrinkled my nose and said it wasn’t worth the watch. Now, however, the more I think about it, the more I want to watch it again and pick apart all the horror traditions it undermines. And that is the sign of a good movie.

Who else has seen this film? What did you think?

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