“Monsters are evangelical creatures for me. When I was a kid, monsters made me feel that I could fit somewhere, even if it was… an imaginary place where the grotesque and the abnormal were celebrated and accepted.” – Guillermo Del Toro.
We enter the boring and mundane existence of Elisa (Hawkins) a voiceless orphan who communicates through sign language and is scraping together a living working as a cleaner in a top-secret government laboratory, where a range of dubious experiments are run.
Elisa continues with her day to day routine until a suspicious delivery arrives and is housed in the chamber that she is responsible for cleaning. The “delivery” is an unusual sea monster being studied by the FBI that Elisa fall’s in love with.
The film’s message of a mute woman who falls for a captured sea monster is a tribute to outsiders of all kinds — a message that has been well received by festival audiences as a crucially relevant one. They come from completely different world’s and can only communicate through signing to each other in an environment that is hostile to them both.
Laura Podolsky’s essay “Of Monster Masses and Hybrid Heroes: Del Toro’s English Language Films” she identifies his intertwining of Race and Horror, ( Mimic 1998, Blade 2002, Hellboy II 2008) and the potential of his films for socio-political critique.
All three films deal with a particular fascination of horrifying multitudes (of insects, cloned vampires and tooth fairies) the latter two films deal with more hybrid like creature, whose part monster and part human characteristics encourage the audience to identify with them and the concept of the “other”.
“The idea of otherness and being seen as the enemy. What I feel as an immigrant. What I feel is an ugly undercurrent not in the past — not in the origins of fascism — but now. It is a movie that talks about the present for me. Even if it’s set in 1962, it talks about me now.” – Guillermo
Guillermo through his monster facilitates the classic immigrant story, post arrival and pre-acceptance if indeed that is a fully attainable “goal” or “privilege”.
The hostility of the new world, different language, a new way of life, coupled with a suspicion of being newcomers speaking in foreign tongues perfectly reflects the current refugee crisis and the treatment of millions of displaced people who have left their homes, with many of then swept up onto our shore’s at times dead on arrival.
Many of those who do survive are stigmatised by the press and communities and others who are living in a culture of fear against the new wave of immigrants. These “outsiders” are real and exist in abundance and as Guillermo quite correctly says, although The Shape Of Water is set in 1962, it is relevant now.
The art direction also help transport us into this dark, beautiful fairy tale with performances from Richard Jenkins, Sally Hawkins, Octavia Spencer, Micheal Shannon and Doug Jones as the sea monster.
Guillermo is fully intent on achieving his goal this time with his sea monster who “gets” his girl, offering us a glimmer of hope for the future.