Not many of the movies we cover have won Oscars, much less the Best Picture. But in my eyes, movies like W Is War or Rats: The Night of Terror are entertaining as hell and it doesn’t matter to me what the members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences think. But hey — we have an actual Best Picture as our movie of the day.
Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins, Paddington) was found near a river as a child with wounds in her neck. She’s mute and lives alone above a cinema and follows an incredibly strict schedule, eating the same meal and masturbating underwater every day. Her life seems regimented and ordinary, except that she works in a secret government lab at the height of the Cold War.
She has two friends — Zelda (Octavia Spencer, The Help), a co-worker who acts as her interpreter and Giles (Richard Jenkins, The Cabin in the Woods), a closeted gay man who is struggling with sobriety and keeping his advertising career.
What makes the story move — and her life change — is “the asset.” It’s a mysterious Amazon creature that was once worshipped as a god (Doug Jones, Hellboy). Despite the warnings of Col. Strickland (Michael Shannon, Nocturnal Animals), she becomes close to the creature.
Somehow, the scientists want to use the creature to help America succeed in the Space Race. General Hoyt orders that they need to vivisect the monster, with only one scientist — Robert Hoffstetler — pleading for its life. The secret is that he is really Dmitri Mosenkov, a Russian spy whose masters have asked him to kill the monster, too.
Elise learns of the plans and convinces Giles and Zelda to help her. Mosenkov helps as well. She keeps the creature in her bathtub, planning on releasing him into a nearby canal in a few days. Strickland goes wild — whether because he was always crazy or because he fears for his job and life or the drugs that he’s taking, as the creature bit off his fingers and his body is rejecting them.
Meanwhile, Giles discovers that the creature has eaten one of his cats, Pandora. He startles it and it slashes him in the arm and runs away. Elisa finds him in the cinema and brings him back. As a way of apology, he touches Giles’ arm and head. When he wakes up the next morning, his wounds are gone and his hair has grown back.
In a fairy tale like scene, Eliza fills the entire bathroom with water, making a world for her and the creature to share. They make love. This scene turns many people off to the movie, as how could a human woman fall in love with this monster? This is something director Gullermo del Toro had planned since he worked on a reboot of The Creature from the Black Lagoon. And if we follow this theory, Eliza wasn’t fully human anyway.
The plot moves into overdrive, as both Strickland and Mosenkov are given ultimatums. The military man has 36 hours to get the creature back, while the spy is due to be extracted. The creature starts to die, too.
Strickland tracks the spy, killing his handlers after they shoot him. He tortures the dying man in a grisly scene until he gives up Eliza and Zelda. When he goes to Zelda’s home, her husband gives away the entire plan. But Strickland is too late — Eliza has already taken the creature to the water.
The government man arrives and shoots both Eliza and the creature, but the monster heals himself, slashes Strickland’s throat (taking his voice, just like Eliza has none) and brings her into the water, where he heals her wounds and transforms her scars into gills.
This is a gorgeous film, with a well-considered look and feel. The color palette is spectacular and makes sense, as Strickland fears the color teal and Eliza slowly gains more red color as the movie progresses.
There’s also a bravura scene that recalls Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in Follow the Fleet. It totally takes the movie into an even more fantastic world, if that is possible. It’s my favorite part of a film that I found plenty to love in.
This still isn’t my favorite del Toro movie (I love Crimson Peak so much), but it’s still one of the better movies you’ll see. You know who doesn’t agree with me? Rex Reed. He called it “a loopy, lunkheaded load of drivel” and, referring to Hawkins, said that described people with disabilities were “defective creatures” and that her character was mentally handicapped. Oh yeah. And he also thought that Benicio del Toro directed it. I’ve hated Rex Reed’s reviews since I was a kid and this doesn’t change my mind at all. Perhaps we should remember his turn in Myra Breckinridge when considering his reviews.
Several have called out that this movie shares graphic similarities to the video game BioShock, as well as thematic similarities to the 2015 short film The Space Between Us, Rachel Ingalls’ novel Mrs. Caliban and a play called Let Me Hear You Whisper, where a cleaning woman falls in love with an intelligent dolphin and tries to rescues him by putting him a laundry hamper. Hmm. To his credit, del Toro claims that the movie was inspired by a conversation with author Daniel Kraus.