THE SHAPE OF WATER might be the most gorgeous film of 2017 (other than Blade Runner 2049 and I haven’t seen Last Jedi yet). Certainly, not might, this ranks as one of writer/director Guillermo Del Toro’s best films alongside Hellboy II, Blade, Pan’s Labryinth and Mimic. It has a solid structure, there doesn’t seem to be a scene wasted, it’s well acted and it’s very entertaining…so why can’t I put it on my Top 15 Film List of 2017 like so many other critics are doing? Because while the story has a very solid structure, it is unfortunately way too predictable to be taken as a wholly original film. It is still a great film, and I am recommending it to see it in a theater to experience the wonderful cinematography on the biggest screen that you can, but the story, including the journey, was an ingredient that was vital to the masterpiece of this dish, and they didn’t put enough in.
Maybe my expectations were too high after all the praise this film was getting, calling it “one of the best of the year.” I agree it is Oscar worthy in every sense of the form. Especially it should win cinematography if Blade Runner doesn’t and I think Sally Hawkins is likely to win Best Actress (and rightly so, she is freaking incredible in this, her best performance to date). Just something for the story for me was off. Beat by beat, plot progression by plot progression, I was guessing everything that was going to happen at every turn. Sitting in almost an empty theater at 10 p.m., I was saying out loud scenes to myself (but quietly, wasn’t near a soul) that were going to happen 10 to 15 minutes down the line, and I was correct. There wasn’t a moment where something absolutely shocked me into what was going on. The only minor thing that was unpredictable was a subplot with Russians that revealed its hand a little too early and had a conclusion I guessed since moment one.
Not to say the movie isn’t boring at all. It’s not, its quite entertaining, and people are sure to love this exquisitely shot love story. The character arcs all go full circle. Other than Sally Hawkins, Richard Jenkins, Michael Shannon, and Octavia Spencer are all incredible here and if any of them got Oscar nominations as well they are well deserved. I shall be crushed though if this gets nominated for Best Original Screenplay, because it is so riddled with some cliches and predictability it would take amnesia to not notice them. I’m only trying to explain myself why I am not putting this on my top list so people aren’t shocked beyond belief. They might be shocked that I am not putting Disaster Artist in my top 15 either even though I thought it was incredible, but I have reasons for that as well.
Now let’s get to the creature, played by Doug Jones. I was surprised how much of a practical effect the creature was, other than the eyes. I thought it would be a CG creation a la Beast from this year’s Beauty and The Beast, but boy was I wrong. This thing is real, looks real, feels real, so the chemistry because him and Sally Hawkin’s mute character is believable, inspiring, yet heartbreaking when it needed to be. In fact, this creature and the two’s chemistry make whatever Belle and the Beast had in this year’s earlier adaptation seem like it was done on a computer with a tech on autopilot.
The end is a little anti climatic as well, but effective. And on the whole I still think it is a pretty great film. It’s beautiful and a true work of art: visually. If Guillermo Del Toro, on his next film, could take that art, and turn it into something not just visually appetizing, but bring us a dessert of a truly sweetly written and unpredictable word, by God what a masterpiece that would be. And I was starting to give up hope on Del Toro, after the painstakingly numbing experience of Crimson Peak, and the good but not fantastic Pacific Rim. But this is a giant step in the right direction across the street of cinematic heaven. Just a few more steps Del Toro, you’ve made it there several times before being sent back to the drawing board, you’ll make it again.