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Toronto Film Review Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water

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Toronto Film Review: Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water

Fox Searchlight Pictures

Toronto Film Review: Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water

Guillermo del Toro is an ingenious crafter of dioramas, of which The Shape of Water, a Cold War-era drama tinged with elements of the paranormal, is no exception. Yet where Crimson Peak’s clutter of dilapidated, rotting luxury felt like the jumping-off point for the Mexican filmmaker’s imagination to run amok, here del Toro appears restrained by the concrete and steel of an underground research facility. The setting yields an inherent coldness that the film must work to overcome, and for the first time in his career, del Toro visibly struggles to reconcile his premise with its execution.

The film’s protagonist, Eliza (Sally Hawkins), is a mute woman who works as a cleaner in a classified government laboratory. Del Toro establishes her loneliness via montages of her daily routine that show her boiling eggs, swabbing floors, and, in the most obvious giveaway of her emotional state, vigorously masturbating each morning inside a bathtub. Limited in communication to signing with her co-worker, Zelda (Octavia Spencer), and neighbor, Giles (Richard Jenkins), Eliza largely keeps to herself, rarely making eye contact with superiors and expressing herself only in private.

Fear Itself: "Skin and Bones"

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<em>Fear Itself</em>: “Skin and Bones”
<em>Fear Itself</em>: “Skin and Bones”

Leave it to Larry Fessenden to finally overcome the restrictions of form and content that have shackled virtually every other director who’s contributed to Fear Itself. Is there any other filmmaker working today with more experience and skill in good old-fashioned backyard filmmaking? Just a quick glance at the DVD extras on his excellent film Wendigo demonstrates his hands-on approach to filmmaking: The construction of homemade camera rigs and improvised FX are proof of his DIY approach. Like David Lynch, he’s one of the few proud “amateurs” in an industry of jaded professionals. It’s his personal touch that allows him to color outside the lines, to light and frame scenes through artistic intuition rather than industry trend. This is what distinguishes “Skin and Bones” from the previous seven episodes of Fear Itself. All of the previous installments, including Stuart Gordon’s very effective “Eater,” have a similar flat look to them, much like any quickly shot TV show. Fessenden’s, however, looks like a real movie, with careful attention to light and sound and a creative use of the frame.

The Banality of Good and Evil: Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth

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The Banality of Good and Evil: Guillermo del Toro’s <em>Pan’s Labyrinth</em>
The Banality of Good and Evil: Guillermo del Toro’s <em>Pan’s Labyrinth</em>

Pan’s Labyrinth is a thoroughly mediocre movie—not egregiously bad, but dull and unremarkable and easy to dismiss. At least, it would be easy to dismiss, were it not for the insane across-the-board critical acclaim that it’s managed to garner. It’s not enough for these people to say “go see a sweet little fantasy flick, it’s good;” they must instead find deep and redemptive significance in what is at best a fairy tale retread with fascist gunfight appendices. But the fact that the film is a repetition of the fairy tale structure is exactly what people find so profound: Roger Ebert led the charge with his predictable declaration of “A fairy tale for grown-ups!” that was mirrored by other critics, as if dressing up a bedtime story with Franco references and bloodshed were doing anything other than gilding a wilted lily.

The film itself does little to engage the mind. We are introduced to 12-year-old Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) as she drives with an official escort into a forest compound somewhere in Spain; it’s the waning days of WWII, and her new stepfather—the bloodthirsty fascist Vidal (Sergi López)—has designs on her pregnant mother’s child, which he expects to be the son to carry on his name. In true fairy-tale fashion, the film sets up the Wicked Step-parent as an oppressive ogre so as to give the put-upon child a reason to fantasize—and perhaps subconsciously call those fantasies to life. Sure enough, she’s soon visited by a fairy who leads her into an abandoned forest labyrinth to find a wacky-looking faun (Doug Jones) at the center. Turns out Ofelia’s the reincarnation of a long-lost princess from a fantasy world (whatever it’s called; I blacked out during the exposition), and that she has to perform some tasks in order to restore her position.