By Kam Williams
“The Shape of Water”
Very Good (3 stars)
Rated R for violence, profanity, sexuality and frontal nudity
Running time: 123 minutes
Production Studios: Double Dare You Productions / Bull Productions / TSG Entertainment
Distributor: Fox Searchlight
The “Shape of Water” is the early favorite in this year’s Oscar sweepstakes. The sci-fi fantasy about love across species lines was nominated for the most Academy Awards, 13, including in a half-dozen major categories: Best Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Lead Actress (Sally Hawkins), Supporting Actress (Octavia Spencer) and Supporting Actor (Richard Jenkins).
Writer/director Guillermo del Toro was ostensibly inspired by Creature from the Black Lagoon, a classic horror flick from the Fifties which spawned a couple of sequels as well as a comedic spinoff, Abbott and Costello Meet the Creature from the Black Lagoon. This variation on the theme turns the scary merman from malevolent to merely misunderstood.
The story is set in Baltimore in 1962, and unfolds inside a top secret government laboratory. There, a half-fish / half-human (Doug Jones) is being kept under wraps in a giant vat of gelatinous, green soup by Colonel Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon) who dragged the primordial monster out of the muck in the Amazon.
Strickland mistreats the savage since he lost two fingers trapping it, while marine biologist Dr. Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg) has been ordered to study its unusual lungs. The plot thickens when cleaning ladies Elisa (Hawkins) and Zelda (Spencer) discover the classified amphibian’s vat.
For, Elisa is a lonely mute with nothing going on in her life. To her, a merman is better than no man at all. So, she starts communicating with him. Friendship blossoms into mutual attraction, and it gradually becomes a curious question of just how far can this forbidden romance be taken. The answer? Pretty far.
After all, anything can happen when you’re dealing with Magical Realism. Some other examples of this otherworldly genre are Black Swan, Birdman and del Toro’s own Pan’s Labyrinth. While this critic generally prefers pictures solidly grounded in reality, “The Shape of Water” certainly is sufficiently engaging and visually-captivating to recommend for open-minded fans of the supernatural.