Hannah Parker reviews the newest instalment from director Guillermo Del Toro…
A mute woman with mysterious scars on her neck masturbates in a bath tub until reaching orgasm in the exact time for her eggs to be boiled. That’s one way to say “this isn’t like any other movie you’ve watched before”. For starters, it’s refreshing to see a woman masturbating (which is totally normal by the way, even if Hollywood refuses to admit it). Secondly, we don’t see many mute characters in modern films. But this is just the beginning, it’s about to get much stranger and simultaneously much more beautiful.
Elisa Esposito (played by Sally Hawkins) is a cleaner at a Government laboratory. It doesn’t sound like a glamorous life, but she seems happy none-the-less. She lives in a one-bedroom apartment above a movie theatre next to her best friend, Giles (played by Richard Jenkins). He’s an odd-bod in the eyes of society himself by being gay in the 60s, and this sets their friendship up to be one of warmth, dance and comfort. Her other best friend is Zelda Delilah Fuller (played by Octavia Spencer). She’s black, which makes her yet another outsider during the time the film is set. She’s also in a loveless marriage with a lazy husband who, quite frankly, doesn’t deserve her. So, all three of the main protagonists are set up brilliantly for us to gain instant likeness and relatability to at least one of them.
But of course, there’s one significant character that is perhaps the true attraction to the film. The Asset (played by Doug Jones) is a sea creature that resembles some sort of merman, but is also referred to as a God. It’s chained up in a tank, experimented on, and essentially lives a life with no freedom and daily torture. But when Elisa meets it, she sees a creature that can communicate, that can understand, that can feel, and so they gain an unlikely friendship. It would be easy to assume that she helped the asset more than the asset helped her, but in fact the creature changed Elisa’s life and made her feel emotions she had perhaps never felt before.
“It would be easy to assume that she helped the asset more than the asset helped her, but in fact the creature changed Elisa’s life and made her feel emotions she had perhaps never felt before.”
The evil white man that’s in charge of the experimentation of this incredible creature is Colonel Richard Strickland (played by Michael Shannon). He’s the epitome of a dickhead. Once he’s decided he’s experimented on the creature enough while alive, he decides he wants it killed so they can experiment further. Although a scientist, Dr. Robert Hoffstetler pleads with him to keep it alive. You can imagine hundreds of Strickland’s running around America, doing some pretty horrendous things for the President right now. He’s a villain you don’t love to hate, you just wish you could punch. He essentially makes you root for the group of random protagonists to save the asset even more than before.
But Esposito, Giles, Zelda and Robert Hoffstetler saving the creature from imminent death is only the beginning. All four of them risk their lives, but it makes sense why. All four of them have a reason to feel sympathy with something that has been shoved to the very deepest pit of society. However, as enjoyable as their escape from the lab is, the story takes an unlikely turn.
While caring for the asset in her bath tub, Esposito finds her connection moving from friendship to romance. If you explain this in simple terms, a woman falls in love with a fish monster. But if you truly look into their relationship, it’s much more in depth, beautiful and mesmerising than that. Two outsiders, a woman that has never fit into society because she can’t talk – she’s just too different for many to comprehend. And an incredible creature that some say has been worshiped, but is now being hunted because of how non-human it is – again, just too different to comprehend. Their shared differences creates a bond between the two that’s stronger than any gunshot wound or evil Government worker.
On the outside, the film may sound like a strange, expensive porno. But it proves itself to be so much more than this. It sounds cheesy but the film does prove that love can surpass any barrier. More importantly than that though, it shows that when outsiders join together to defeat evil, they can do anything. In such a turbulent time for so many people in the world, this film seems poignant in reminding us to work together for what we know is right.
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