This film has garnered the most nominations at this year’s Oscars, and it about deserves all the recognition. Directed and co-written by Guillermo del Toro it tells the tale of the mute Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins) who is a cleaner at an Area – 51 style government research facility in a sub-realistic 1960s. One day the scientists roll in a lizard like creature that Elisa quickly builds a bond with. Learning that the creature may soon be destroyed by the scientists and US government goon Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon), she decides to try and break it out.
Del Toro does a masterful job at presenting this idiosyncratic Hollywood world for his characters to live in. It’s wonderfully shot and the set designs are gorgeous. The colours and techniques del Toro uses are balanced well and it’s a real pleasure to be in the company of this film. It also has one of the best ensemble performances I’ve ever seen. Each character is given time and space to do interesting things. Sally Hawkins it at the centre and does a good job at portraying emotion without speaking. The supporting cast is where the film shines though with Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Octavia Spencer and Michael Stuhlbarg all being terrific. Shannon is of course perfect for the evil, creepy baddie willing to go to the extreme to get what he wants. Spencer is a delight, doing the talking for Hawkins character – adding relief to the film. Stuhlbarg is a bigger part than I was expecting, and he manages to capture the attention of a different story to the larger narrative. Jenkins however, is the standout to me as the neighbour and side-kick to Hawkins’ character. He’s charming, funny and heart-breaking as the ageing man looking back on his regrets and his melancholic loneliness. It really was a joy watching these characters interact in the stunning world del Toro had built for them.
The film is a hard 15 certificate, meaning that del Toro pushes it about as far as it can go. This is why he’s a great director, because he’s fearless. There’s intense violence, and sexual scenes in the film that for the most part land well. A couple of times I wondered if it was all necessary, but I’m grateful that they didn’t shy away from anything. The biggest criticism that I can give the film is that it’s a little uninteresting. It’s an already told story and there are better films out there about US race relations in the middle of the century, and about the cold war. The relationship between the creature and Elisa is a bit mawkish at times, and I can tell I’ve got everything out of it after one viewing. It’s not a great just yet, but it’s really well made and I wouldn’t mind it picking up a few academy awards.
Is it worth the price of a cinema ticket?