15 – 123mins – 2018
MUTEY AND THE BEAST
As we enter awards season, Guillermo del Toro’s allegorical fairy tale is a strong contender for swimming away with all the glory, garnering a staggering 13 Academy Award nominations – for a strictly adult-only dark fantasy, no less! I was fortunate enough to attend a Cineworld Unlimited Screening on Tuesday evening, ahead of The Shape of Water‘s UK theatrical roll-out on February 16th, although I must confess my appreciation for this Oscar frontrunner was not without impediments.
I cannot dispute the beauty of the film’s pace and tone, which brings to mind the quirky warmth and nostalgic amiability of feel-good gem Amélie (2001). Our mute protagonist, lonely laboratory cleaner Elisa (Sally Paddington 2 Hawkins), finds joy in retro musicals, expressing herself in joyous bursts of tap dancing down the ramshackle corridor of her flat above a dilapidated cinema. Her closeted roommate, bald-headed illustrator Giles (Richard Kong: Skull Island Jenkins), is equally denied happiness by the repressiveness of the film’s Cold War backdrop – he’s in love with the pie shop owner (Morgan Kelly) in an era where homosexuality is still taboo.
GDT successfully evokes and feeds old-school sensibilities into this stylish and fanciful monster movie narrative, which makes its well-meaning point about the rewards of equality for all via Elisa and Giles’ rescue of an imprisoned aquatic creature (Doug Star Trek: Discovery Jones) who is branded a freak and mistreated behind closed doors at Elisa’s secret government workplace.
Michael Shannon is sinisterly arch as a sweet-obsessed, pill-dependant government official who is affronted by anything that is ‘different’. He all-too-happily uses excessive force to restrain their imprisoned abnormality, and he goes to the extreme of ripping his own blackened fingers off of his injured hand following a hospital procedure which doesn’t take. del Toro’s unflinching portrayal of the film’s nastier elements gave me pause.
As in Pan’s Labyrinth, the magical/fantasy elements are contrasted against flashes of blood, gore and human brutality. The Shape of Water goes one step further by interjecting sexuality into the mix. The film’s honourable message still stands, but it is so jarring (and largely unnecessary) to see Sally Hawkins strip naked and masturbate in a bathtub. When she begins to fall for her merman squatter, it is flat out disturbing to see their love manifest itself physically. More uncanny still is that neither Giles or Elisa’s co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer) bat an eyelid at this interspecies affair, with Giles smilingaffectionately and closing the door on the rampant pair after he catches them in the act!
I fully grasp why the narrative progresses in the unorthodox way it does – this is, after all, a Romeo and Juliet case of star-crossed lovers which underlines how we really are all the same beneath the surface – but sex scenes between a woman and a fish-beast stretches credulity a little too far into the preposterous. I cringed at the way the film handled this particular story element and for this reason I cannot give this beautifully-shot, bold-as-brass, noble-intentioned oddity a full complement of CR@Bs.
CR@B’s Claw Score: