Title: The Shape Of Water
Rating: 4 Stars
This is an updated horror movie. Set in the 1960’s, the US government has captured an alien creature from the Amazon that was being worshiped as a god by the indigenous people there.
From the outside, this looks like the makings of a conventional 1960’s style horror movie. If the film had followed that arc, the creature would have somehow managed to escape and would have wreaked havoc, terrorizing if not murdering women until finally it itself would have been destroyed by some square jawed all American hero.
Well, this is not that type of movie. The creature, regularly referred to in a clinical manner by its captors, as the asset, is tortured in the name of science. He can breathe both air and water. Scientists think that could have some applicability to the ongoing space program.
The squared jawed all American hero, Richard Strickland is played by Michael Shannon. Here Shannon is in all of his obsessive, severely repressed, homicidal rage. He hates the creature, the creature hates him, and he arranges for the creature to undergo a vivisection, all in the name of advancing American science.
Led by a mute woman, a motley collection of people try to save the creature. She manages to recruit a black woman, a gay man, and an undercover Soviet spy.
What do these people have all in common? They are all aliens to conventional American culture. They all have more in common with the creature, the ultimate alien, than with anyone else.
The mute woman, Elisa (played by Sally Hawkins), and Zelda (Octavia Spencer) are even more outside because they are both just lowly janitors. This works to their advantage as the men can’t even remotely conceive that they could have been so audacious as to have actually pulled off the caper.
The bland assimilation of 1960’s American culture is on full display here. I found it interesting that, aside from Shannon’s character and the general leading the program, virtually all of the workers at the compound were absolutely generic. They were just homogeneous characters walking around either with lab coats or in uniform.
Again, this is a reversal of the typical horror trope. In such movies, usually it’s the heroic scientists, desperately trying to find a cure or trying to find some way to stop the horrible creature, that get front and center character treatment. Here, the scientists (other than the Soviet agent) are completely nondescript.
So, a very interesting movie. You have the fierce looking non-human creature, who is actually the hero, if not the romantic lead. You have two women, both lowly janitors, that pull off a heroic rescue. You have the Soviet spy that displays the most humanity of any government official.
In these times, it’s hard not to find a political message in everything you see or read, but is the message here that if your government is doing something evil, that it is the responsibility of the individual to stand up and do the right thing?