Posts Tagged ‘Guillermo del Toro’

Guillermo del Toro’s films are very much like Tim Burton’s films: there’s a distinctive feel and style to them that sets them apart from other films. A tendency towards the strange and the dark, creatures not oft experienced by man nor treated that much in modern fiction, etc. And such is the case with his latest venture, The Shape of Water, which del Toro says was inspired by when he saw Creature from the Black Lagoon as a kid and was disappointed that it wasn’t a romance between the Creature and Julie Adams.

I have to say, all these decades later, the concept has aged well.

The Shape of Water follows Elisa, a mute custodian at a government facility in Baltimore in 1962. One day, the facility receives an amphibian-man creature from South America, which is kept in a room that Elisa cleans. The two start interacting and romancing, leading to a plot to save the creature from the facility and those who would do him harm.

There’s a lot going for this film. For one thing, it’s beautiful. Everything from the sets to the costumes looks right out of the late 50’s, early 60’s, the lighting is used in different ways to highlight moods and atmosphere, and there are even throwbacks to classic films from that period, including a short musical number that I feel like was inspired by the ones American Horror Story does every couple of seasons. The acting is also pretty stellar: Sally Hawkins as Elisa is wonderfully expressive through facial expressions, body language, and sign language. Octavia Spencer (can that woman do no wrong?) and Richard Jenkins as Zelda and Giles, Elisa’s friends, are full of pathos and charm. And Michael Shannon as the antagonist Strickland, while feeling like a hammy caricature at times, is entertaining to watch on screen.

And oh my God, the make-up on the Amphibian Man (which is his listed name in the movie, I checked). That is award-winning stuff. It looks so real, and as far as I know, mainly CGI-free. That’s really impressive.

All that being said, there were a couple of issues I had with the film. For one, once you kind of understand what sort of film you’re watching, you can kind of guess the plot. It’s been done before, though not with Amphibian Men. So if you can guess the story archetype, you probably will guess where the story is going to go.

There’s also this theme of tolerance and the difficulties of otherness that pervades the film, which you would expect. There’s the Amphibian Man, which isn’t even human. Elisa is mute, Zelda is black, and Giles is gay. Obviously, the filmmakers are going to bring this up. And I’m not opposed to that, I love stories that explore the difficulties of being on the outside for no other reason than being who you are. The problem is, the theme is handled differently from scene to scene. In some scenes, like a scene midway through the movie at a diner, it’s handled very well. But at other times, the handling feels kind of clumsy, which kind of brings down the impact of the theme.

Regardless, this is a wonderful film. If you’re going in for a science-fiction/horror story, you won’t get that. But if you go in for a visually appealing and well-done love story with some sci-fi elements, you’ll end up getting your money’s worth at the theater.

On a scale of 1 to 5, I give The Shape of Water a 3.8. Take a dip into a strange new world, and see for yourself if there’s something to love here.

Now if only del Toro could do an adaptation of At the Mountains of Madness, which he tried to do a few years ago (but only after I’ve read that particular HP Lovecraft story). That would be awesome.

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For a while now I’ve been reading The Complete Collection of HP Lovecraft on my Kindle. I figured it was about time, seeing as I haven’t been very exposed to his work up until this point, and the man has been a huge influence on greats like Stephen King, Allan Moore, Guillermo del Toro, and quite a few more. And since I am always looking to learn from other authors, I figured I should spend ten dollars of Amazon gift cards and see what happens.

Well, you get what you asked for. I didn’t realize that when I bought the collection, that it was 1112 pages! The length in itself is not such a problem, I’ve read books that long before. The thing is, Lovecraft…well, he’s hard to get through sometimes, and for a number of reasons. For one thing, there’s his style, which goes a little something like this:

And as I treaded up the stairs, filled with an anguish that panged the organs within my bosom to no end, I found my wife waiting for me in her chambers, her frown prominently featured upon her face. And I knew that my life had been transferred into a situation seriously detrimental and quite hazardous to my health, for that face on my wife at this hour could only mean that she had discovered my liaisons with Ellen the hotel maid from down in the village. I had endeavored to keep our trysts unknown from all but the walls of Ellen’s room, however it seemed that I was not secretive enough, as evidenced by the porcelain my wife volleyed at my head.

Okay, that’s a bit of a parody, but you get my point. Who talks like this?

Also, some of his early fiction isn’t that good. “Memory” is just a weird little flash fiction piece about a ruined city and a conversation between two beings about the city; “The Street” is about the houses on the titular street killing Communists after the street goes from a nice neighborhood to a slum; “Polaris” and “The White Ship” are obviously both dreams taken too literally, and “The Tree” is just not scary.

Also I noticed that so far, very few women appear in the stories. Several characters are mentioned as having wives, but so far the only woman who has any actual significance is the titular character of “Sweet Ermengarde”, and that’s a story parodying popular romantic melodramas of the day! But given that Lovecraft had a strained relationship with his mother, a turbulent one with his wife, and was dominated by his aunts in the later parts of his life, maybe that has something to do with it.

Lovecraft makes you wonder if maybe this guy is coming for you.

However, while I have my problems with Lovecraft’s early work, I have to admit that some of his stories do hit the mark, and even are a little scary. “The Tomb” is definitely somewhat chilling, as is “Dagon” and “The Picture in the House” (the former bears resemblance to Cthullu stories, while the latter has implications of murder and cannibalism). And I actually very much enjoyed “The Temple”, which was very strange and creepy.

I can’t say about the rest of his work, but for the early stuff I think what makes the successes so great is that they leave impressions on you. They make you think to yourself, “Imagine if that actually happened. That would be kind of creepy…” And then you take a look around yourself to make sure that a slippery slimy creature or some guy with wicked magic or something isn’t near you. Lovecraft is very good at leaving those sort of feelings with you. He makes you wonder, makes you think that there’s something just beyond the corners of our eyes or in the darkest parts of our world that we don’t understand, can’t understand, and that any interaction with that something or somethings would be very dangerous for us.

So there is definitely a reason why HP Lovecraft has stuck around and become well-known as a writer of weird and terrifying fiction. And as I progress from his early work to the stuff that he’s more famous for, like “Call of Cthullu” or “The Colour out of Space” or “History of the Necronomicon”, I’m sure I’ll find more reasons to like this guy (hence the reason this post is titled Part 1).

In the meantime though, I think I’ll take a break from his stuff. Like I said, he’s great when he’s good and I’m already learning a lot from him and seeing some of his influence on my work already, but he’s dense and hard to get through, and after so much of prose like my parody paragraph, I need a break if I’m going to continue someday. Besides, I finished on “The Nameless City”, which has that famous quote in it. You know the one:

That is not dead which can eternal lie,
And with strange aeons even death may die.

I can’t think of a better stopping point than on a creepy story that has that weird couplet in it. Can you?