Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBBB. Canada/USA, 2017. Bull Productions, Double Dare You, Fox Searchlight Pictures. Story by Guillermo del Toro, Screenplay by Guillermo del Toro, Vanessa Taylor. Cinematography by Dan Laustsen. Produced by J. Miles Dale, Guillermo del Toro. Music by Alexandre Desplat. Production Design by Paul D. Austerberry. Costume Design by Luis Sequeira. Film Editing by Sidney Wolinsky. Academy Awards 2017. Golden Globe Awards 2017. Toronto International Film Festival 2017.
Sally Hawkins is brilliant as a mute woman who works as cleaning staff at a research facility in 1950s Baltimore, her life occupied by her friendship with co-worker Octavia Spencer (stealing scenes with her usual charisma) and next door neighbour Richard Jenkins, but not exactly fulfilled by the kind of passionate connection that would really make her feel complete. When a strange package is delivered to her workplace accompanied by a very angry Michael Shannon, she discovers that it contains a creature from a South American blue lagoon who she decides is as much a misunderstood outsider as she is. Beginning with giving him boiled eggs and resulting in her developing a passionate friendship for this strange creature, Hawkins must step in and save her friend when he is threatened by gruesome experiments planned by the American scientists; she doesn’t even know that there are also Russian spies hidden in plain sight waiting to use him for their own devices as well. Shot to look like the paranoid Cold War science fiction adventures that thrilled children of the 1950s, this dazzling film represents Guillermo del Toro at the top of his game, combining elements of fantasy, thriller and romance with incredible skill, the screenplay perfectly smoothed out to provide a satisfying resolution to all the narrative strands it introduces. A movie that combines a creature-feature star, the joys of bathtub masturbation, the gory sight of severed fingers and a sentimental love of old musicals sounds like a mess, but don’t be surprised if the story of interspecial love also brings a tear to your eye. Shannon provides delicious intensity in the kind of role he is born to play, and thanks to the rock solid direction his heavy presence not derail the gentleness of the narrative at the film’s core, but instead provides worthy stakes that make the love story that much more urgent.