The Shape of Water (del Toro, 2017)

I wonder what percentage of The Shape of Water is made up of static shots. 0.5%? Less, even? It’s a pretty dry way to think of the film, but watching it I was so struck by how much the camera moves. It even moves in the many montages and inserts, even if just slightly pushing or tracking. It gives the film this sort of propulsive style; at times I wanted it to steady out and stop, but thankfully I stopped noticing it – which is definitely a testament to the narrative and acting – about midway through.

Guillermo del Toro’s film is precise, a marriage of comic-book style, horror, and true Hollywood, that somehow works. That camera movement is attached to the latter of these three ingredients for me. The constant craning, dollying, etc, feels like big-budget throwback, maybe 1980s, Hollywood. That it’s meticulous speaks to the fine craft of the film: the lens isn’t just flying all over the place. The film is delicately and emotionally blocked. But there’s some kind of childlike wonder to the camera that feels positively E.T.

Ultimately, that’s one of the things I love about The Shape of Water. I’m watching a film that feels nostalgic, and whimsical, and then suddenly there’s masturbation, something maybe like bestiality, and extreme violence. It’s pretty fun and risky to combine these two ideas.

I’ve never liked Richard Jenkins more in a film. During his opening voiceover and very first character introduction I found him dry. But that changed quickly. He’s so good in this, and his range is fantastic. He felt like a cousin to Barbara Bel Geddes’ Midge in Vertigo – some of that is his place at a drafting board, but it’s also the look, and the lovelorn-ness.

I’ve always been a Michael Shannon fan. He’s amazing in the film, of course. I haven’t seen Maudie, so the last Sally Hawkins movie I saw was probably the great short The Phone Call. She’s also great. I was struck by some of the choices she and del Toro decided on for her character. For example, that they chose to make her not “soft-spoken” despite her inability to speak. It’s a great combination and really makes her character vibrant.

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About dcpfilm

Shooting, teaching, writing and watching the Phillies.
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