CGB Review of The Shape of Water

This movie is really great!…
….IF you haven’t already seen Pan’s Labyrinth.

This is my review of The Shape of Water!


Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins) is a mute janitor at a top secret research facility circa 1962. Though a hearing person, she communicates with the few friends she has via American Sign Language (yes, as an interpreting student, I will get into the accuracy of the ASL in this film).  All is well and mundane until a mysterious amphibian fella known as “The Asset” is brought into the lab to be both tested and tortured by Strickland (Michael Shannon).  A woman with no voice, Elisa begins to form a bond with this voiceless creature that leads her to do what she has never dared before.

The Hits
Sally Hawkins is probably one of the best mute characters in recent memory.  Elisa is a woman defined by powerlessness; no voice, lowly job, even her home is a one-room apartment in a dumpy complex.  As I mentioned, Elisa is not Deaf, but a hearing woman, yet she uses ASL to make herself heard.  This is kind of a side note, but in the film we see what is called the Helper Model, which was the first service model of interpreting.  Basically in the days before professional ASL interpreters, family, friends, teachers and members of clergy served as “interpreters” for the Deaf and hard-of-hearing.  In this movie, Elisa’s friends, a fellow janitor named Zelda (Octavia Spencer) and Giles (Richard Jenkins), her neighbor, are her helpers.  They don’t sign to her, but they understand and interpret sign-to-voice what she says when others address her.   However even her language holds little weight in a speaking world.   Her budding relationship with The Asset is contrary to her everyday existence; she teaches him ASL, she provides him with food and companionship, she is the one who eventually breaks him out of the research facility.  She has power in this relationship that she never has in her day-to-day.  Okay, yes, Eliza and the Asset do consummate their romance.  However there is no full-blown sex scene.  It’s literally this: She undresses, walks to him in her shower and pulls up the curtain.  That’s it.  There is another scene where she quite literally floods her bathroom (good luck getting that to dry later) and swims naked with the Asset, but by this point, the movie has built enough context so that this scene signifies that she essentially wants to be a part of his world.  If you’re now singing “Part of Your World” from Little Mermaid right after reading this, well, I’m sorry not sorry.  🙂
In regards to the ASL, I’d say 98% of the signs and grammatical structure are accurately used in this film.  I did see one or two old signs that are no longer used within the Deaf community (such as the sign for “mute,” which is used because Eliza is in fact a mute character), but otherwise Eliza and the Richard Jenkin character sign better than the “interpreter” guy at Nelson Mandala’s funeral.
A major theme throughout the film is the reality of those who have no power.  Every protagonist is an individual who is powerless in their own society.  We’ve covered Eliza’s powerlessness, Zelda is African-American and given the time period, she has zilch power in white America, Giles is subtly implied to be gay and closeted, so no power or agency for him, and of course the Asset is subjected to daily torture and abuse by Michael Shannon’s Richard Strickland.  Speaking of Strickland, his character is the exact opposite of Eliza, Zelda, Giles and the Asset; male, white, heterosexual and in complete control of everything that goes on in the research facility.  Now his character could be seen as created to vilify conservatives, but both the script and Shannon himself make this character three-dimensional.   His power makes sense within the context of the time period the story is set in.  His oppression of the other characters is more subtle and realistic as to how someone in his position would act; he is never seen whipping Zelda or raping Eliza, but his casually racist comments and implications that these characters are beneath him make for a compelling villain.

The Misses
Okay, Guillermo, can we talk?
Now I LOVE Pan’s Labyrinth; it was my 100th review here on this blog.  That movie was a major game-changer for me and it’s one of the reasons I developed a passion for languages (I did try to learn Spanish a few years after first watching Pan’s, but the Lord guided me to ASL instead; thank You Jesus 🙂 ), but as good as Shape of Water is, the plot relies way too heavily on story elements from Pan’s Labyrinth.
Here, as a Pan’s fan, let me just walk you all through what it was like to watch Shape of Water.

Act I: Okay, this is good.  Beautiful color palate, nice greens and midnight blues…I’ve seen this color palate before, but whatever…the main villain is an oppressive, toxic-masculinity tyrant…huh, kind of reminds me of Captain Vidal, but Michael Shannon’s guy is different enough.  Okay, I like this, and hooray for ASL on the big screen!

Act II: Huh, this movie has a sympathetic doctor character who stands up to the tyrannical toxic masculine villain…oh, hi Dr. Ferrero from Pan’s Labyrinth!  Come to think of it, the powerless characters theme is similar to Pan’s…nah, this one’s different enough…

Act III: [SPOILER!!!…though not really if you’ve seen the first ten minutes of Pan’s] Okay, this whole third act is nearly identical to the ending of Pan’s Labyrinth!  Hmm, let’s see, a short-haired brunette gal standing in the rain who gets shot in the stomach by the tyrant villain.  Also there’s a brief musical montage that rips off the “what-could-have-been” ending of La La Land.

So what’s my whole point?  On it’s own, this movie is great…BUT if you’ve seen Pan’s Labyrinth, which is even better, Shape of Water is just good.  Now the reusing of plot elements don’t destroy Shape, but it is a little worrying that this movie is so dependent on the eleven year old predecessor.  Look, Guillermo, I know that Crimson Peak, an original story by yourself, didn’t work out so well at the box office, but you can still create original stories that don’t need to be spoon-fed by a previous work.  Going forward, an artist needs to branch out and try new things.  At some point the copying of tropes that worked in the past will tire and your work will become dated.

Overall The Shape of Water is definitely an experimental film, primarily with the premise of “why doesn’t the creature from the black lagoon get the girl?” question.  The movie is held together by excellent performances, a fantastic representation of American Sign Language, and the intrigue of the premise.  Hopefully this will be the only time Guillermo del Toro copies and pastes from Pan’s Labyrinth and will create works that stand on their own in the future.  But for now, I’m glad The Shape of Water is receiving all the accolades it has clearly earned.

Saint Margaret of Cortona, pray for us.


CGB Review of It (2017)

I wonder if holy water would’ve worked on Pennywise.  I guess I’ll try it out the next time I see a killer clown while grocery shopping.

This is my review of It!


Based on both Stephen King’s novel and the 1990 miniseries of the same name, It tells the story of the Loser’s Club, a misfit group of outcasts who begin experiencing frightening apparitions and visitations from Pennywise, a demonic killer clown who has been terrorizing Derry, Maine for thousands of years.

The Hits
The kids are the heart of this story and these child actors are absolutely fantastic!  Their chemistry with one another is impeccable; I could believe that these kids would hang out at a Starbucks after school together.  While it is uncomfortable to see twelve-year olds dropping F-bombs, I honestly prefer that over cheesy phrases that no kid would ever say.  I like how they don’t go into long diatribes about their friendship.  Their bond is shown to us through their actions and decisions as a group, how they come to each others’ rescue whenever one of them is reeling from an encounter with Pennywise.  Much like the first Alien movie, this film spends its first hour fleshing out Bill, Stan, Ben, Beverly, Eddie, Richie and Mike and establishing them as friends through circumstance.  You get the sense that it is in being rejected by others that they have come to accept one another.
All right, let’s talk about Pennywise because, by God, how can you not talk about Pennywise?!  Bill Skarsgård nails it as Pennywise.  Gone is the witty banter of Tim Curry’s interpretation of Pennywise.  This Pennywise is basically a Machiavellian demon, one who rules his chosen targets by presenting himself as their worst fears made manifest.  After we meet him in the film’s first eight minutes, the movie then proceeds to build up the terror of anticipating his unpredictable presence rather than having him screech at the kids in every single scene.  He is featured more prominently in end of the second act and the entire third act, but for the first hour and a half, he’s like the Fire Lord in Avatar: The Last Airbender; shrouded in mystery and kept in the shadows with a single red balloon being his calling card.
What keeps the Pennywise apparitions from becoming too repetitive is that they are used to establish the worst fears and darkest memories of our protagonists.  Bill is forced to revisit his guilt over Georgie’s death when he follows Pennywise (disguised as Georgie) into his flooded basement and faces not-Georgie, who is wearing the same yellow raincoat he was last seen wearing on the day of his death.  Mike’s first Pennywise encounter comes to him in the form of burning hands trapped behind a door, a gut-wrenching representation of the family he lost in a horrific fire.  These scenes are critical to the character development, as well as for getting a sense of Pennywise’s possible omniscience and immortality.  I really wonder if this is what it would look like if God actually gave Lucifer a free hand.  Luckily the old serpent can’t do squat without God’s permission, and after seeing this movie, I’m most certainly glad that’s the case!
Speaking of which, I would like to say that while this is a secular film, it would not be far-fetched to call this an unintentionally accurate portrayal of what it is like to deal with spiritual attack.  Not so much the over-the-top scares, but in the depiction of the unnerving reality of being bullied and harassed by evil.  Granted, this isn’t a de facto story of spiritual warfare, but I do feel that those who do work in that field (such as those involved in deliverance ministry and maybe even exorcists) could benefit from watching this film.  Spiritual attacks certainly make life challenging, but they can also serve as a wake-up call to run to Jesus if you’ve been moving away from Him for a while.

The Misses
There’s this really unnecessary love triangle between Bill, Bev and Ben (try saying those three names ten times fast) that the filmmakers do try to develop, but it ultimately falls flat because it’s just a distraction from the main plot.
Speaking of Bev, she has this reputation of being promiscuous, even though we see that it’s not the case at all.  This point is hand-fisted throughout the film.  Now while I am glad that slut-shaming is addressed in this film, it gets tiresome by the fifteenth time a character throws an accusation of promiscuity in Bev’s face.  There’s a more subtle way to write slut-shaming into your movie, and I hope filmmakers learn how to do so.
The very end of the film features the kids basically making a blood pact that they’ll return to Derry if Pennywise returns.  Yeah, I felt that was a bit much.  Hey, guys, I think a verbal agreement would’ve been just fine, but what do I know?  I guess being stalked by a killer clown can make you resort to extreme measures.

Overall It can certainly be called a crowd-pleasing horror flick.  This movie is like Deadpool in that it’s better watched with a group of friends at a midnight screening.  Fortunately even if it weren’t a midnight movie, the script is well-written and stands on its own two feet.  Add to that the stellar performances of Bill Skarsgård and the child actors, and excellent directorial work from Director Andy Muschietti, and you’ve got yourself a Stephen King adaption worthy of the hype and applause it has received.

Saint Padre Pio of Pietrelcina, pray for us.

Given that the new It film is immensely dark and heavy, I thought it’d be fun to add the Nostalgia Critic’s review of the 1990 miniseries “It” as a bonus feature.  🙂