The Shape of Water movie review

For inSing

THE SHAPE OF WATER

Director : Guillermo del Toro
Cast : Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Doug Jones, Michael Stuhlbarg, Octavia Spencer
Genre : Drama, Fantasy
Run Time : 2h 4m
Opens : 1 February 2018
Rating : M18 (Sexual Scenes And Nudity)

       In The Godfather, the Corleone family received a threatening message, telling them that the enforcer Luca Brasi “sleeps with the fishes”.

This fantasy romance film puts an entirely different spin on that phrase.

It is 1962, and Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins) is a mute janitor working at a secret government facility in Baltimore. Elsa lives alone, and her two best friends are her neighbour, illustrator Giles (Richard Jenkins) and her co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer).

Col. Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon), the severe head of security, arrives at the facility with precious cargo in tow – a humanoid amphibian creature dubbed ‘the Asset’ (Doug Jones). Dr. Robert Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg), who is studying the Asset, takes issue with Strickland’s harsh treatment towards the creature.

Elisa gradually begins to bond with the creature, bringing him eggs and playing music on a gramophone in his presence. As unlikely as it seems, Elisa begins to fall in love with the Asset. When she discovers his life is in danger, Elisa sets about rescuing the Asset from the facility, making her a target of Strickland’s wrath.

Director Guillermo del Toro, who also co-wrote the film with Vanessa Taylor, has always been a genre filmmaker. All his films can be classified as fantasy, horror, science fiction, or some combination of the above. However, this has never restricted him – rather, working within these genres has freed del Toro as a storyteller. General audiences often view genre films through a somewhat narrow lens, but del Toro broadens said lens, and The Shape of Water is an excellent example of this approach. The film has garnered 13 Oscar nominations, including for Best Picture and Best Director – it’s not every day that the Academy recognises fantasy romance monster movies this way.

This is a weird, beautiful, enchanting movie. On the surface, there’s the oddness of a woman falling in love and entering a physical relationship with a humanoid fish creature. Originally, del Toro wanted to remake Creature from the Black Lagoon, but from Gill-man’s perspective, recasting the classic movie monster as a romantic lead.

Naturally, cheesy romance novels in which women fall in love with supernatural creatures of various stripes, including but not limited to vampires, werewolves, angels and immortals, come to mind. However, The Shape of Water is far more poetic and less literal than that. Its bizarreness is intertwined with enveloping warmth. This is a movie about outsiders finding solace and understanding in each other, and past the genre trappings, there’s something pure and resonant about that.

The film treats 60s America with a degree of romanticism, but is also keenly aware of the societal tensions at the time and how those attitudes continue to manifest themselves today. This is a fantasy, but the world in which it unfolds is eminently believable.

Like all del Toro’s movies, The Shape of Water is deliberately designed. All the little details vividly evoke the period, and the atmospherics, from the colour palette to Alexandre Desplat’s harp-driven score, sell the film as a meticulously crafted whole. As envisioned by production designer Paul D. Austerberry and shot by cinematographer Dan Laustsen, there’s a cold dankness to the research facility. However, this proves to be the right setting for the romance between Elisa and the Asset to blossom, the unromantic surrounds throwing their bond into sharper relief.

The Elisa character gives Hawkins the opportunity to deliver a sensitive yet electrifying performance. The character is mute, and has always felt like she’s been regarded as missing something everyone else does, but she is a whole person, with dreams and desires of her own. The character’s sexuality is portrayed with a refreshing frankness, and Hawkins brings no vanity to the part at all.

Hawkins’ physicality complements the physicality displayed by Doug Jones, an oft-collaborator of Guillermo del Toro’s. Like classic movie monster portrayers Lon Chaney and Boris Karloff, there’s more to Doug Jones than the fact that he’s in special effects makeup in most of his roles. In The Shape of Water, he gives a legitimately masterful performance, overcoming the constraints of what must’ve been a very uncomfortable suit, especially since Jones was in water for most of the film.

With his luminous skin and limpid eyes, The Asset is beautifully designed, and has become something of an unlikely sex symbol. Legacy Effects developed the special effects suit and makeup, and it’s easy to buy the Asset as a living, breathing entity. However, he looks so much like Abe Sapien from the Hellboy movies – also directed by del Toro – that this reviewer couldn’t help but imagine the Asset was Abe Sapien, even though del Toro has said they’re different characters.

Michael Shannon is in maximum creep mode, playing a truly despicable antagonist. Strickland is inherently cruel, racist and exacting, but has also bought in to the consumerist message of the ‘American dream’, coveting a fancy new Cadillac. There’s a bit of a supervillain air to Strickland, but Shannon never goes the full moustache-twirling hog. There’s the religious zealot angle, with Strickland referencing Bible stories and saying that the Asset is an aberration for not being made ‘in God’s image’. Shannon can always be counted on to play a scary villain, and Strickland is plenty scary.

Jenkins’ Giles is a loveable character, someone who’s harbouring a secret and whom, like Elisa, knows what it’s like to be an outcast. The friendship shared by Elisa and Giles is sweet, and Jenkins and Hawkins play off each other to create an unconventional, lightly comedic double act.

Spencer plays to type as Zelda, sassy and chatty and always an understanding friend and co-worker to Elisa. Stuhlbarg’s character seems like the stock sci-fi movie scientist, but we see a few layers to him as the film progresses.

The Shape of Water is an exquisite creation that brims with humanity. It’s not afraid to expose some of the ugliness of humanity, but it counteracts that with indescribable beauty. This is a fairy tale for grown-ups, with plenty to say beyond its central conceit of ‘woman falls in love with humanoid fish monster’. There will be audiences who might be put off by its superficial weirdness, but most viewers will find it easy to surrender to the film’s embrace, however cold and slimy it might seem at first.

RATING: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

 

The man within the monster: five memorable Doug Jones roles

For insing

The man within the monster: five memorable Doug Jones roles

Gaze upon the many faces of the star of The Shape of the Water

By Jedd Jong

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Todd Williamson/JanuaryImages/REX/Shutterstock (9225445l)
Doug Jones
The Shape of Water film premiere, After Party, Los Angeles, USA – 15 Nov 2017

If Andy Serkis is the actor most closely associated with performance capture roles, then Doug Jones is the actor most closely identified with the more old-fashioned ‘men in rubber suits’ technique of portraying movie monsters. Jones has over 150 credits to his name, and has often played characters under layers of prosthetics.

Director Guillermo del Toro with stars Sally Hawkins and Doug Jones

Jones co-stars with Sally Hawkins in director Guillermo del Toro’s new period fantasy romance The Shape of Water, in which he plays a humanoid amphibian creature known only as ‘The Asset’. Jones’ lanky proportions make him the ideal canvas on which special effects makeup artists can work their magic: the former contortionist comes in at 1.92 metres tall. He got his start in advertising, playing a mummy in a Southwest Airlines commercial and the moon-headed piano player in the McDonald’s ‘Mac Tonight’ ads.

The actor’s association with del Toro began in 1997, when Jones was brought in for reshoots to play the humanoid cockroach creature in Mimic. “He loves creepy monsters and wants to talk about them,” Jones recalled. The two formed an instant connection, with del Toro excited to learn about the various famous makeup artists with whom Jones had collaborated.

Special effects makeup artist Shane Mahan, designer Mike Hill and Doug Jones

Jones went on to co-star in del Toro’s Hellboy movies, and has worked all del Toro’s films since then except Pacific Rim. Jones’ other projects include Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, The Bye Bye Man, Batman Returns, Hocus Pocus, and Always Watching: A Marble Hornets Story, in which he played The Operator, a character based on the Slender Man internet mythological character.

There’s more to what Jones does than putting on a rubber suit and walking around. “Acting is acting,” he stated. “So whether I’m wearing a light dusting of powder that day on a sitcom, or wearing heavy rubber prosthetic make-ups, I still have to find the heart and soul of the character. That’s really where it starts with me.”

The Shape of Water has become something of an awards season darling, nominated for a whopping 13 Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director. Del Toro also won a Best Director Golden Globe for the film, and the film took home best picture at the Producer’s Guild Awards. Lead actors Hawkins and Jones were praised for their physicality, and for making the outlandish, weird relationship between woman and fish-man beast feel plausible and emotional.

Here is a look at five of the most memorable roles Doug Jones has played throughout his career as the go-to guy to give monsters some heart.

#1: ABE SAPIEN in HELLBOY and HELLBOY II

Early glimpses of the Asset in The Shape of Water immediately attracted comparisons to Abe Sapien, a similar-looking character Jones portrayed in the two live-action Hellboy movies. The thoughtful, reserved aquatic humanoid blue-skinned Abe serves as an ideal foil to the brash, red-skinned Hellboy (Ron Perlman). The character was voiced over by David Hyde Pierce in the first film, but Jones voiced Abe himself in the sequel. Jones also voiced Abe in two animated Hellboy films. Referring the trio of Hellboy, the pyrokinetic Liz Sherman (Selma Blair) and Abe, Jones said “between the three of us, I think we represent the freak in all of us, in all of humanity, we all feel, even supermodels that I’ve known, feel insecure and freaky at times.”

To play the intellectual Abe, Jones drew inspiration from his older brother Bob, a college professor with a PhD in molecular biology. “Abe has always been something of a lost soul, as is Hellboy, and I think that’s why people can relate to them is because we all feel like freaks in our real life at some point,” Jones said. The Abe Sapien makeup application process took seven hours for the first film, which was streamlined to five hours for the sequel. In Hellboy II, Jones also played two additional characters: the Chamberlain and the eerie Angel of Death. Jones said the mechanical wings he wore as the Angel of Death “weighed as much as a Vespa”, and even left him bleeding. “Those are small sacrifices to make when you look at the final product and say, ‘Okay, that’s what we made,’” Jones remarked graciously.

#2: THE FAUN in PAN’S LABYRINTH

In the haunting, lyrical Spanish-language dark fantasy film Pan’s Labyrinth, Doug Jones portrays the Faun. The Faun guides the young Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) into a fantasy world where she must complete a series of quests. Jones, who doesn’t speak Spanish and had to learn the screenplay phonetically, received an email from del Toro, in which the director proclaimed “You must be in this film. No one else can play this part but you.” For research, del Toro gave Jones specific advice, telling the actor “Dougie, I want you to study the back end of barn animals’ — like cows, goats, you know, how do their hooves meet the ground, and how they shake their tails.”

“I read it within hours of getting it…I couldn’t put it down,” Jones said of the screenplay. “I turned the last page closed, wiped a tear and said, ‘I do have to be in this movie.’” During the five-hour long process of putting on the makeup and animatronic effects components to play the Faun, Jones would practice his Spanish dialogue and the makeup artists would help him. Jones’ voice was later dubbed over by Spanish theatre actor Pablo Adán.

The Faun also ages in reverse – he starts out looking decrepit, with moss growing all over him, but his hair eventually turns an auburn colour and he looks more youthful as Ofelia progresses in her quest. Jones had to cooperate with various others artists and technicians to bring the Faun to life. “A lot of things had to work in concert with them together and with puppeteers operating half my face and all, so he had many various elements that had to be screwed on mechanically and zippered and pinned and snapped and Velcroed,” Jones explained.

#3: THE PALE MAN in PAN’S LABYRINTH

In Pan’s Labyrinth, Jones also portrayed the exceedingly creepy Pale Man, one of the various obstacles Ofelia must overcome. The Pale Man has a bloodied mouth and an eyeless face – his eyes are instead in his palms. The fact that Jones plays both roles is intended to suggest that the Pale Man is a creation of the Faun, or even the Faun himself in another form. The Pale Man’s pursuit of Ofelia through his palace is one of the film’s most heart-stopping moments. “I have had the great honour to sit next to Stephen King during the Pale Man sequence and to see him squirm like crazy,” del Toro said, comparing the feeling of having frightened the renowned horror author to winning an Oscar.

The Pale Man’s sagging skin indicates that at one point he was plump – when he had plenty of children to eat. Ofelia is the first child to enter his lair in eons, and the Pale Man is sure she will not escape his grasp. Del Toro’s direction to Jones for the chase scene was to move like “a George Romero zombie”. To save time and allow the makeup team and himself to get more sleep, Jones would leave part of the Pale Man makeup on and wear it back to the hotel. “I didn’t tell anybody this during the shoot because I knew that Guillermo would have my hide for it because he wants me to relax and out of this all. But I had them take my head and neck off and my hands off but leave the arms and the torso on,” Jones revealed.
#4: LT. SARU in STAR TREK: DISCOVERY

We leave the realm of movies for a bit and beam over to TV, where Jones is currently a regular cast member on Star Trek: Discovery. The long-running Star Trek franchise has introduced a multitude of iconic alien species to audiences, including the Vulcans, Klingons, Romulans, Andorians and the Borg. In Star Trek: Discovery, we meet a new race: the Kelpians. Kelpians are a prey species, used to being at the bottom of the food chain. Cmdr. Saru, played by Jones, is the first Kelpian to rise through the Starfleet ranks, becoming the science officer and third-in-command on the USS Shenzhou. One of Saru’s distinguishing features is his ‘threat ganglia’, an organ at the back of the head that helps him sense oncoming danger.

Saru has a somewhat contentious but generally friendly relationship with the show’s heroine, First Officer Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green), which Jones compares to a brother-sister bond. “We annoy each other, but we have a deep love and respect for each other as well. Saru thinks she’s the smartest Starfleet officer he’s ever worked with. So that’s where the intimidation and the competition really comes from,” Jones reasoned. The makeup application process was initially four hours long, but makeup artist James McKinnon has gotten that down to two. “His detail and his finery of getting this on to me every day is amazing, but he’s getting faster at it. Mercifully so,” Jones said. “When you’re doing a long-running series, you don’t want to be in makeup four hours a day. So, getting it done in two is very helpful.”

#5: THE ASSET in THE SHAPE OF WATER

And now, to the man – or the humanoid amphibian, rather – of the hour. In The Shape of Water, set in 1962, Jones portrays a mysterious creature brought back from South America and held in a top-secret government lab in Baltimore. Elisa (Sally Hawkins), a mute janitor at the facility, becomes fascinated by and eventually falls in love with the Asset, who is tormented by the sadistic ex-soldier Strickland (Michael Shannon). Elisa eventually hatches a bold plan to break the Asset out of the underground lab in which he is held.

The Asset has become something of an unlikely sex symbol, and that was entirely by design. “A note Guillermo gave me, as far as [the Asset’s] physicality goes, he kept pushing the sexy,” Jones said. “This character has to be sexy. When watching the film you have to believe that someone could actually fall in love with him and find him sexy and want to take their clothes off in his presence.” Del Toro said he set out to create the ‘Michelangelo’s David of fishmen’. He collaborated with fine artist Mike Hill, whom del Toro met at the Monsterpalooza trade event, in designing the Asset. Del Toro was unsure if Jones, a practicing Christian, would be comfortable performing some risqué scenes. “I asked what could possibly be the problem and he goes, ‘Well, there’s a f*** scene.’ As only he could say,” Jones recalled with a laugh.

Addressing the physical similarities between the Asset and Abe Sapien, Jones said “Guillermo was very specific, he did not want Abe Sapien in this film at all,” and that del Toro wanted The Shape of Water to stand alone as “its own piece of art”. While Abe is intelligent and articulate, the Asset is animalistic, and cannot speak – which is a way in which Elisa relates to the Asset, since she is mute. Jones said that the relationship between the two characters was “so lovely to explore on film.”

The Shape of Water opens in Singapore theatres on 1 February 2018

Crimson Peak

For F*** Magazine

CRIMSON PEAK

Director : Guillermo del Toro
Cast : Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain, Tom Hiddleston, Charlie Hunnam, Jim Beaver, Doug Jones, Leslie Hope, Burn Gorman
Genre : Supernatural/Mystery
Run Time : 119 mins
Opens : 15 October 2015
Rating : NC16 (Some Violence)
Guillermo del Toro beckons you to enter Allerdale Hall. Dare you step through its foreboding gates? In this period horror flick, Mia Wasikowska plays Edith Cushing, a young author who falls headlong in love with the mysterious stranger Sir Thomas Sharpe (Hiddleston). Sir Thomas comes from Cumberland, England to Buffalo, New York, accompanied by his sister Lady Lucille Sharpe (Chastain). After the tragic and sudden death of her father Carter (Beaver), Edith marries Thomas, while her childhood friend Dr. Alan McMichael (Hunnam) continues to harbour feelings for her. Alan begins to suspect that there is more to the siblings than meets the eye, as Edith is spirited away to Allerdale Hall, the ancestral home of Thomas and Lucille. Situated atop a clay mine, the mansion has fallen into disrepair, its walls hiding restless spirits and arcane secrets. Our heroine must unearth the mysteries buried in Allerdale Hall before it devours her whole. 
Director Guillermo del Toro has said that following the rough time he had making Mimic, he reserves his lyrical macabre fantasy horrors for his Spanish-language films, with most of his English-language movies being more accessible blockbusters. After cultivating a good working relationship with Legendary Pictures’ head honchos on Pacific Rim, del Toro was allowed to unleash his dark imagination in a big Hollywood movie with Crimson Peak. These days, horror movies seem to be predominantly low-budget affairs; found-footage movies proving especially popular with studios. Blumhouse has cornered the market with the Paranormal Activity franchise and its ilk. There is nothing inherently wrong with low-budget horror and there have been several excellent small movies in this genre. However, there is no denying that aficionados of classic horror have been hankering for a grand, lavish fright flick, and Crimson Peak should go a good way towards sating that appetite. 
Crimson Peak is a wholehearted throwback, with del Toro and screenwriter Matthew Robbins citing 1963’s The Haunting and 1961’s The Innocents as primary influences. It also owes a great debt to Edgar Allan Poe’s classic Gothic short story The Fall of the House of the Usher. Clockwork contraptions and dead insects, which the director has a particular fondness for, figure into the plot. The central setting of Allerdale Hall was constructed from scratch at Pinewood Toronto Studios in all its eerily dilapidated glory. Del Toro, production designer Thomas E. Sanders, art director Brandt Gordon and the rest of the film’s creative team can take a bow knowing that they have crafted such a sumptuous, spooky world. Placing the house atop a red clay mine is an inspired touch, allowing for the haunting imagery of the blood-red clay seeping into the snow above, hence the name “Crimson Peak”. The ghosts, rotting carcasses enrobed in wispy, black ether, are suitably grotesque and benefit from the physicality of performer Doug Jones, an oft-collaborator of del Toro’s.
The film is essentially a blood-drenched soap opera, theatrical, highly mannered and often quite arch. As such, del Toro runs the risk of the audience feeling like they are being held at arm’s length, unable to fully sink their teeth into the proceedings. There is very little subtlety to be had – for example, Edith announces upfront that in the story she’s writing, “The ghost is more a metaphor – for the past.” It is possible to step a little too far back and leave the realm of the story. Not entirely dissimilar from American Horror Story or Penny Dreadful, then. One does need to be in the right frame of mind to take in Crimson Peak and this reviewer did appreciate the theatricality; the lurid, saturated palette echoing Italian giallo horror films. In the cut that we watched, a sex scene was truncated, presumably to get an NC-16 instead of an M-18 rating. 
“We have scary ghosts, but even scarier people,” del Toro proclaimed while promoting the film at Comic-Con. A gorgeous set means nothing without a talented cast to inhabit it, so it’s a good thing then that this cast is very talented indeed. Wasikowska, who has played the “ethereal waif” fairly often in her career, is the ideal leading lady for this project. Emma Stone was originally cast, and Wasikowska does seem better-suited to the Edith part. This is a determined woman who would rather be Mary Shelley than Jane Austen, and the balance between strength and vulnerability is one that Wasikowska absolutely nails. She is the outsider who finds herself plunged into an unfamiliar, frightening world – it’s not a new character type in this genre, but Wasikowska does breathe new life into it. 
Hiddleston can play “enigmatically charming” in his sleep, and Sir Thomas Sharpe is enigmatically charming to the hilt. Replacing the initially-cast Benedict Cumberbatch, Hiddleston looks right at home in the period costumes and sets. There’s an immediately appealing warmth that he brings to the part while ensuring we’re still questioning his motives every step of the way. Chastain’s turn could have used a little more ambiguity, but her icily sinister Lady Lucille is threatening and beguiling all the same. Pacific Rim star Hunnam fares a little worse, playing the “nice guy” who lacks the edginess Hiddleston has and whom convention dictates won’t get the girl. He also doesn’t fit into the late-Victorian/early-Edwardian setting as well as his co-stars do. It is pretty fun to see Burn Gorman, also from Pacific Rim, pop up in a cameo.
Crimson Peak is the work of a director who is right in his element, given free rein to indulge his dark imagination and reaping rewarding results while at it. It does veer dangerously close to pastiche at times: Fernando Velázquez’s musical score is very on-the-nose, the climactic confrontation involves somewhat brandishing a giant shovel and there might be one too many uses of the iris wipe transition, which most audiences know best from Bugs Bunny going “th-th-that’s all folks!” However, more than enough of del Toro’s earnestness and adoration for classic horror comes through and the splendid production values are a treat amidst the sea of cheaply-made, grainy, shaky contemporary fright flicks. 
Summary: Guillermo del Toro delivers a handsome, stately horror film that is a throwback to the heyday of the haunted house subgenre, with no shortage of gruesome wince-inducing brutality for good measure.
RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars
Jedd Jong