The Shape Of Water Delivers In Both Style And Substance

The Shape Of Water Fox Searchlight Pictures

While I didn’t fall in love with Guillermo Del Toro’s The Shape Of Water the way I expected to, I’m hardly bemused by the rich critical response it has garnered from many of my friends and colleagues. It’s an undoubtedly beautiful picture, fizzling with heart and imagination. In an industry beholden to a call for spectacle and scale, Del Toro is determined to make the hitherto distilled style and substance congruent.  

The film applies the beloved director’s passion for monsters to a Cold War-era romance, wherein a mute custodian falls in love with a government facilitated amphibian-humanoid, referred to only as “the asset.” It’s a sort of easy, though admittedly well-executed commentary on unconditional love. Whatever sense of underdevelopment there is to be found in the film is absolved by Del Toro’s obvious attempt at creating his very own fairytale, a subgenre of fantasy defined by its adherence to rudimentary dynamics and definitions of things like pathos and love. Fair, I’ll give him that one, though the “intention” to make the characters feel thin would feel like a cop-out had craft and nuance not been exercised in the visual presentation of the film.

Don’t mistake me. This isn't me saying Fox Searchlight Pictures spent a bunch of money on The Shape Of Water, it’s me saying the studio spent however much money to good effect. Merely looking good isn’t enough to earn my recommendation — every movie looks good in 2017 (sans Justice League ). That distinction now has to be married with other virtues like vision, imagination and, most importantly, execution.The Shape of Water makes good use of practical effects that boasts character and the cinematography is exceptional. I don’t go to the movies to watch special effect demo reels. C GI debris clashing and clanging indiscriminately, awfully framed and set to “Welcome To The Jungle;” there isn’t artistry there. That said, my frustration with the lack of inspiration prevalent in modern blockbusters isn’t genre specific. It Comes At Night is a masterful horror film, smartly made and presented. Thor: Ragnarok is escapism at its finest.  

Del Toro speaks with remarkable acuity through his visuals. The intricate design of the aforementioned aquatic creature at The Shape Of Water’s center alone expresses so much thematically. He’s at once beautiful and grotesque, depending on the angle.  And that was no accident. When done correctly, when done with care, style and substance are one in the same.

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