Jul 19, 2017

Trailing Off: "The Shape of Water" (2017)

Scene from The Shape of Water
Welcome to the sporadic column Trailing Off in which I take a look at a trailer from the past week and analyze its potential. This will be done using an obnoxious amount of analyzing and personal thoughts on the cast and crew as well as expectations. I will attempt to highlight films ranging from new blockbusters to lesser known indies and give them their due. Partially to spread awareness, I do believe that there is an art to the sell and will do my best to highlight why these trailers matter or don't with approval (trove) or disapproval (trash). So please stop by, recommend some trailers, and I will see you next time.

Trailer in Discussion

Directed By: Guillermo Del Toro
Written By: Guillermo Del Toro & Vanessa Taylor (Screenplay), Guillermo Del Toro (Story)
Starring: Michael Shannon, Michael Stuhlbarg, Octavia Spencer

- Preamble -

How is it hard to like a director like Guillermo Del Toro? If he isn't your style, the least that you could say about him is that he's singular. He creates wonderful visions that update fairy tale creatures to modern day settings. He more than deserved all of the praise he got for Pan's Labyrinth, and has a filmography that is just as strong in striking images. He's even created one of the most intriguing superhero movies out there in the Hellboy origin story that mixes sardonic wit with cool creature effects. He is the type of person who should keep monster movies alive while also delivering them on a bigger budget.
With exception to the godawful Pacific Rim, I have enjoyed all of his movies. Crimson Peak in particular is an underrated gem that manages to make a solid melodrama of the haunted house genre. He's even great at using practical effects in deceptive ways, as many complained that ghosts in that movie were CG when in fact they weren't. There's a lot to admire in how he tricks us all, and it's part of why The Shape of Water is more intriguing than the name of the movie. It is yet another monster movie from the man who probably will have every last design he sketched down molded into a life-sized mannequin for exhibits in the decades to come. If not, people will always imitate the Pale Man and be reminded that ingenuity isn't dead.
Like all of Del Toro's films, my one piece of advice is to go into each film with as little known as possible. The most that I am willing to expose myself to is the trailers. I know that it's a thorny subject, and one that probably doesn't appeal to everyone. In fact, it's probably why Crimson Peak didn't do so hot at the box office. However, he tells the type of stories that are just as visually stunning to witness as they are to consume as literal stories. I don't know what this movie will be, but I hope that it inspires me with another great creature design, and one that stays in my imagination long after the movie is over.

- Dissection -

There's so much to enjoy just in the opening design of the film. Why is everyone under water? Of course, there's the central character that looks like Abe Sapien from Hellboy. Even if we don't see him directly, there's a sense that this caged creature has a dark and seedy past. Or does he? Why does a mute girl seem to have a deeper obsession with him down to sharing Benny Goodman records? In some ways, the music selection does come across as a bit twee, but otherwise builds the tone of the film in an interesting and singular way. There's not too many movies that center around mute characters. Considering that Baby Driver used someone with tinnitus, there's a good chance that we're getting into the era where people with physical defects fill up the screen more often.
Even then, I feel like Del Toro's version is genuine. He loves monster movies, and it's hard not to see it here. It at times seems reminiscent of A Cure for Wellness, which came out earlier this year to little success. Both have an industrial feel to them, as if some scientists are shamefully hiding an awful secret from the world. It could be why they are having a mute woman clean the room that houses the monster. But what about those other scenes that flash so rapidly across the screen? What is that drama that we see? There's so much on display here, even down to the clashing tones of upbeat and menacing. 
A Shape of Water at least has a first trailer that stands out in a field of horror movies that look and feel more conventional. Del Toro looks to have made another art house monster movie. It helps that the cast is strong, including Oscar-nominated talent in Michael Shannon and Michael Stuhlbarg. In every sense, this is at least a fun and curious movie that has a lot of secrets underneath its surface. For those interested in monster movies, it is a great sell, and one that works just as much as simply flashing "Directed By Guillermo Del Toro" for two minutes straight. He's a director whose trust has been earned for those who love weird oddities. Thankfully, this looks like one of his better ones.

- One Sentence Sell -

Guillermo Del Toro has returned with a love story between a sea creature and a mute girl, and it gets weird from there.

- Trove or Trash -

Even if I'll blindly see a Guillermo Del Toro movie anyways, it's nice to see trailers that keep that enthusiasm alive in ways that blanket statements could rarely achieve.

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