The Shape of Water

The Shape of Water ★★½


My eighth failed attempt at liking a Guillermo Del Toro film. (I skipped Mimic and Blade II in theatrical release, though the latter is in my endless queue of stuff to catch up with eventually.) The best I ever manage is respectful indifference—which is weird, because he's so clearly striving to induce rapture, and so many others often think that he succeeds. Trying for a pithy, tweet-ready explanation, I summarized my reaction to his work, pretty much across the board, as "I acknowledge your cinephilia"; there's something vaguely pushy about Del Toro's allusions and references, which serve as a sort of secret handshake between filmmaker and fanboy. (I wasn't surprised when he befriended Harry Knowles, though my antipathy predates their association.) The Shape of Water ostensibly takes the form of an adult fairy tale, but all the nudging (right from those telltale "scars" on both sides of Elisa's neck, which I think are just about the first thing we see) held me at a knowing remove from its forbidden romance. Del Toro somehow even whiffs the film's big sweep-'em-off-their-feet setpiece, when TCM buff Elisa imagines herself the star of an old-school Hollywood musical number—the sequence ends almost as soon as it's begun, content that it has signified "transporting," as opposed to actually transporting the viewer. Del Toro is the kind of auteur who conceives a cartoon sadist (every damn time, come to think of it) and decides to hire Michael freakin' Shannon for the role. Everything's a hat on a hat. It's like having someone yell "Surrender to the magic!" in your face for two hours. Maybe I could if you'd stop yelling.