Visionary craftsman Guillermo Del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth) combines a number of genres in this fantasy, spectacle for the eyes, set during the height of the Cold War.
Del Toro returns with his most successful film to date. And no film ever made by him has summed up the man who said at this years Golden Globes - on receiving best director - 'I'm in love with monsters' quite so much.
The tale itself uses the conflict and use of espionage between the United States and Russia during the Cold War as a backdrop for a unique, supernatural romance between a mute janitor Elsa (Sally Hawkins) and a mysterious amphibious creature being held captive at the facility she, and friend Zelda clean (played with her usual solidity by Octavia Spencer).
I will not deny there are many aspects to like and admire about the film. From Sally Hawkins’ (Oscar nominated) portrayal of the mute Elsa, in which she does more than most without saying a single line, and to convey such emotions of pain, love, loss and fear with only expression is something that has to be applauded. And to the overall aesthetics of the film, made even more impressive by it's shoe string budget of $19 million. The emotion and feeling in every scene is conveyed by the picture on screen, from the moment Elsa first lays eyes on the creature, to the somewhat surprising climax the film takes. There won't be too many complaints if the film walks away with a number of technical category wins at the Oscars come Sunday, of which it is nominated for a year high 13.
It has to be said that the film left me wanting. Whether that's because I wanted to like the film more, as a fan of Del Toro, or whether I was a victim of the hype, but I still feel you have the right to expect the very top from a film so firmly slated as the best picture favourite in many peoples eyes.
It was the semi-frequent lulls in the story that made me feel I was grasping for a deeper connection to the film. There are moments of pure spectacle and wonder, that are then followed by 20 minutes of what felt like waiting for another ride on a roller-coaster, a short fleeting glimpse of the film I could've and perhaps wanted to see.
There were moments when it felt like Strickland (who runs the facility), played with every ounce of his being by Michael Shannon, was working desperately hard to carry the film on his back in an attempt to elevate the story to it's ultimate conclusion, which, while beautifully shot, felt somewhat anti-climactic.
Del Toro has undoubtedly made a good film here. One that is being praised universally for it's look, it's sound (composer Alexandre Desplat will more than likely walk away with the Oscar for original score come Sunday) and it's overall message of 'beauty lies below the surface'. However the decision to combine the genres (admirable as it is) of thriller, romance, drama, sci-fi, war and arguably musical have slightly drowned what in many ways could have been a perfect story of unconventional romance.
I have no doubt it will walk away with quite a bag full of Oscars come Sunday, most notably Del Toro himself for director, however I find it impossible to shake the notion of what might have been.