Want to challenge a guy on the first date? Take him to see this film…like I did!
Whether it be gothic horror or monstrous superheroes, the fantasy genre is embedded with Guillermo del Toro as one of it’s fearless leaders. His latest creation is exactly that; fearless. If you are not familiar with the plot then here it is in lament terms. A mute cleaner working in a secret underground facility in the 1960’s, befriends an amphibious human like creature who she then falls hopelessly in love with. As the threat to his life grows, the mute enlists the help of her black co-worker, gay neighbour and an undercover Russian scientist to break him out. Talk about breaking down stereotypes right?
True story about the first date. I was mightily worried that seeing a romantic fairy tale was not perhaps the best move but it exceeded my expectations; the film I mean. (The date also went extremely well) With fantasy not being my favourite genre, hesitation led me to think I was walking into a whimsical, ‘away with the fairies’ story due to the romantic nature. To be fair, it does have elements of this but it is so wonderfully unconventional. Who else could make horror so romantic other than Del Toro? Probably few but none better than him.
The journey to unlikely romance is one cleverly built by Del Toro. Essentially, Eliza (Hawkins) being mute presents her as a ‘creature’, in her own perspective and that of society. She connects with the creature (Jones) due to their common ground, there’s no judgement or pre-conceived notion. Through the communication of their body language, sign language and music, they become closer as equals. And then you find yourself sitting there thinking – wait, I’m really rooting for this couple to get together?
Although you think this sounds all ‘cutesy’, the representation of their love is depicted far grittier than I expected. Even the minimal self-love Eliza carries for herself comes in the form of a routine morning masturbation in the bathtub to a countdown of an egg timer. The first time it happens, it sends the film into a total new direction and comes as a pleasant surprise for viewers. You’ll be pleased to know my date attempted to shield my eyes from the naughtiness as a gentlemanly gesture! Del Toro paints a clear connection between water and the characters being able to express themselves intimately; sexually and not. They can feel free and comfortable and if they want to have semi-alien sex, then they will!
There is a sickly cute dream sequence towards the end involving a song and a dance but then the fairy-tale abruptly ends with violence in the harsh reality. Bringing that force is one of my favourites, Michael Shannon; who plays government agent Strickland whose sole job is to imprison the creature for scientific testing. As the antagonist, his destructive power builds the stronger their love grows and his obsession to succeed casts a dark spell on the storyline. Don’t associate that to be negative because it adds such a valuable layer to the film. Mostly in part to the actor chosen to play the role in my opinion.
Speaking of brilliant actors, I think without the talent of Sally Hawkins, it wouldn’t have succeeded as well as it did. Now the Oscars have been and gone, we know that she lost out Best Actress to Frances McDormand which is fairly justified; but any other year and it would have been hers. This woman is silent for 90% of the film; she acts solely through the softness of her face, the emotion behind her eyes, and the language with her movements. As an budding actress myself, this type of work is an art form; she bloody nails it. The supporting cast were also brilliant but Octavia Spencer being nominated for an Oscar? Bit steep for someone who was hardly on screen..
The film absolutely swept the Oscars winning Best Picture, Best Director and others for set design and score. And you know what, it deserves it. Its’ a film of the elements combing fantasy, love, horror, comedy, thrills and more; therefore it appeals to a wider audience. I will admit that I didn’t fall head overs heels like most critics did; but I put that down to my personal feelings on the fantasy genre. Some may not get over the whole ‘supernatural half alien /half man’ concept which is a far fetched idea to settle with. However, if there’s one lesson this film can teach, its to have an open mind!
Due to technical issues, this review is annoyingly 6 weeks late but I guess the plus side is that I can update you on what’s happened since the first date. We are still dating! Turns out he’s the sweetest guy ever and he doesn’t mind coming to the cinema with me so think I’m onto a winner here!
4.5 out of 5 boiled eggs