Starring: Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Octavia Spencer, Michael Stuhlbarg, Doug Jones
Directed By: Guillermo Del Toro
Plot: A mute janitor (Hawkins) at a government facility falls for the equivalent of the creature from the black lagoon. Mischief ensues.
What Works: Film critics have been adoring this film since it first hit a film festival. It’s a presumed frontrunner in several categories. For me, it lived up to the hype. The film is absolutely GORGEOUS. Everything from cinematography to production design to score is just like eating an 8 layer chocolate cake. It’s so much perfection you wonder if you can really handle it all. Then come the performanes. While none of them top my lists, several are currently in my top 10. Sally Hawkins is great, making the most of her dialogue-free role. Michael Shannon is great in a role clearly written for Michael Shannon. Not enough attention is being paid to him. It’s all being thrown at Richard Jenkins, which is a shame, because I thought Shannon was terrific here too. Jenkins is great, don’t get me wrong, but he wasn’t that much better or showier than Shannon to completely forget to acknowledge him. Octavia Spencer also has a few great scenes, which is why she’s in the race. Of the four aforementioned parts, however, Spencer is the weakest link, only because she’s the most “background” of the characters. Michael Stuhlbarg was good too, but often felt just a step behind the others. Doug Jones did some great work in that suit too, not being able to use words to evoke emotion. Really, this is a well acted, beautiful film, with a daringly original story that only Guillermo Del Toro could have made.
What Doesn’t Work: Unlike some other critics, I will bow to the idea that this film is not for everyone, and some will be turned off. Even I was turned off by one scene (which almost cost it a grade). SPOILERS AHEAD: When Sally’s character reveals to Octavia that they’ve had sex, and she’s just like “does it even have a penis?”, I feel like that’s not an appropriate reaction. No matter how open you think Spencers character might be, she would at least be somewhat taken aback or disgusted at the idea of Sally having sex with a fish man. But she’s so super chill with it that it just bothered me. Even if we just got a good pause and look from her like “did I just hear you correctly?” followed by a “well, it’s not my place to judge”, that would have made more sense. Instead, she’s just totally OK with it. Nope.
Final Word: If you can get past the idea that a woman is in love with swamp thing, then you’l love this film. There’s nothing glaringly wrong with it. It’s so well made, and the performances are top-notch. This film is definitely going to be a major player at the Oscars this year.
Also, for those out there who are worried about what “genre” this is, I could best describe this as a romance, with a dash of espionage and social issues. I wouldn’t describe this as a horror film, despite maybe one or two moments that are questionably gory (but really like PG-13). If you’re avoiding this because you think Del Toro is trying to sneak attack a horror film on you, he’s not. He’s out of his comfort zone here, and it’s still pretty brilliant.
Final Grade: A