Plot Summary: In a 1960s research facility, a mute janitor forms a relationship with an aquatic creature.
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Writers: Guillermo del Toro (screenplay by), Vanessa Taylor (screenplay by)
Runtime: 2h 3min
- Sally Hawkins as Elisa Esposito
- Michael Shannon as Richard Strickland
- Richard Jenkins as Giles
- Octavia Spencer as Zelda Fuller
- Michael Stuhlbarg as Dr. Robert Hoffstetler
- Doug Jones as Amphibian Man
Review by: Erika TDuring the Cold War era America circa 1962, Elisa (Sally Hawkins) works as a part of the cleaning staff in a secret high-security government laboratory. As someone who had her voice box removed and has never been able to speak since childhood, she lives a very lonely and isolating life with her only confidants being her next-door neighbor, Giles (Richard Jenkins), his half a dozen cats, and her co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer). But together they discover a secret classified experiment that will change their lives forever.
I originally wasn’t so sure about the film because even though I grew up liking Beauty and the Beast as a cartoon, when it came to the live-action the love story didn’t sit right with me. I tend to have few exceptions for “interspecies” relationships, hence why I can be an urban fantasy reader at all. Vampires, elves, fairies, angels, witches, weres (while in human form of course), etc. tend to be okay for me depending on how humanized they are. Anything else gets a little weird(er)…
I think they did a top-notch job with the casting and the script. There is never a dull moment. It’s quite honestly one of my favorite Del Toro films. Sally Hawkins was nothing short of excellent as Elisa. It is probably my favorite performance of the year. Being able to express herself as a character with no voice is a monumental task, but she took it on and exceeded. She is amazing with her facial expressions. One of my favorite characters had to be Octavia Spencer as Zelda. She brings so much personality to the role and has the best lines of the whole movie. Michael Shannon is one of my favorite actors and if you want a villain, he is a solid choice and then some. Richard Jenkins really delivers as Giles as well. His friendship with Elisa is one of my favorite aspects of this story. Doug Jones as The Asset continues to show why he is the go-to guy for these types of roles. His physical acting ability is next level and I can’t imagine how difficult it is to give life to a character without ever showing your face or saying a word. Not only was the script strong, but this team really made me care about all of the characters and to do that in 2 hours is really impressive.
Honestly, I still found the romance uncomfortable (I’ve been calling it Beauty and the Fish Beast), but I went in knowing what I’d be getting so that helped in that there were no surprises. The story also did a fantastic job of giving you perspective, showing what could be an even worse scenario for Elisa. Making the asset relatable on a human level also helped a lot. There is so much more going on in the story that overall I really enjoyed it and think it has a lot of rewatch value, mer-romance or not.
Visually the film is beautiful. The set pieces, the cinematography, and the time period help to give the film stand out quality. You really feel like you’re being pulled into another world when watching it on a big screen. Considering Del Toro is known for being a visionary director, you can definitely tell it is one of his works.
The design of The Asset remind me a lot of Abe Sapien from Del Toro’s Hellboy 2: Golden Army. I’m sure that is no coincidence, but they are completely different characters in terms of personality. They discuss his backstory, but I would have wanted to see more of it in the film, though I imagine it would have given the budget a significant increase.
Images Courtesy of IMDB