A modern, adult fantasy-horror retelling of Beauty and the Beast but with the Creature from the Black Lagoon and Guillermo del Toro behind it... I mean on paper I should love it! And yet it has taken me a weirdly long time to see this modern classic (entirely of my own doing too; Alison bought me the Bluray ages ago), so I was a little wary that it might not live up to the hype. Well, I'm extremely glad to report that it did. There's almost nothing that I disliked about the film and a huge amount that I thought was brilliant, most of all the central cast. The creature was expertly done, but the humans were the real stars, with every performance just perfectly done. From the chatty friend, to the closeted neighbour, to the ideal housewife, the characters were all ideally pastiched and yet incredibly real; even the villain was an intriguing and riveting person in their own right, even if they had a slowly decaying hand throughout the film (such a weird yet engrossing side plot – emphasis firmly on the gross).
From a cinematic perspective, I also understand the sheer level of Hollywood praise. The Shape of Water is a beautiful movie from just about every angle: artistically, cinematically, audibly, and obviously narratively. Direction, dialogue, editing, and acting are all exceptional, and the design is pretty much perfect. I actually feel like the creature is a little too human, though I do understand that del Toro was trying to create a "god" and also evoking the beastial beauty of, well, the iconic Beast, so I get it. But it does place it slightly into the uncanny valley, which occasionally made it more obvious that it was a person in a suit (particularly the shot where he first rears out of the water). Other elements though, such as gills and bioluminescence, were brilliantly done and the overall effect is an utter triumph of practical and CG artistry.
I'd also say the pacing was perhaps just a touch slow in parts, which largely worked to help you really absorb the world, but did make it feel like a long movie. And speaking of the world, I was desperate for a little more world-building around the creature. The little we got was excellent, but I want to know so much more! These are extremely personal and minor complaints though. The bigger issue is also the reason that the film works: it's a story we know, told in a very different way, but ultimately that makes it predictable. I was a little unsure if the end was going to actually be a double death, and I really like that we're left with the narrator for the final miracle, leaving it very much like a Pan's Labyrinth twist where you're not entirely sure what is or isn't real. I called the gills, though, very early on 😁
The result is a wonderful movie, quite possibly the epitome of del Toro's entire career, and an extremely worthy watch. I don't think it's a truly iconic film or Oscar winner, but I'm extremely glad it got its moment in the spotlight.