Run time: 123 mins
Mute janitor falls for fish creature isn’t one you’d peg for Oscar glory, yet Guillermo del Toro’s sumptuous fantasy romance is just that.
The Mexican filmmaker has made an honest-to-god B-movie creature-feature that’s also, somehow, a shimmeringly earnest and boundlessly beautiful melodrama. It’s Beauty and the Beast meets Creature from the Black Lagoon. Sally Hawkins is unforgettable as Elisa, an orphan who was abused as a child (her vocal cords were severed) and now makes a living as a cleaner at an underground government facility in Baltimore 1962.
Our aquatic friend (Doug Jones) known as “the Asset” was captured from its habitat in the Amazon, where it is said to be a revered god. Now, as a literal prisoner of US paranoia, is being tortured with a cattle prod. Agent Strickland (Michael Shannon) sees the monster as a freakish affront to God. Nasty experiments, which will allegedly give the U.S. an advantage over the Russians in the Cold War, await the hapless gill-man.
Del Toro’s unconventional and impassioned love story is brimming with his trademark flair for the weird – Pan’s Labyrinth and Hellboy are mythological wonders – and yet it all feels beautifully grounded. (Jack Whiting) Beautifully grounded indeed.