Sally Hawkins stars as Elisa, a mute woman who feels isolated and works as a cleaner at a laboratory. One day at work, she discovers an underwater creature being ‘studied’ by the lab’s head of security Richard Strickland (played by Michael Shannon). As the film progresses, Elisa grows an attraction towards the creature as a way to cure her lonely lifestyle. The film also features Richard Jenkins as Elisa’s queer next door neighbour and advert artist, Giles; Octavia Spencer as Elisa’s friend at work, Zelda; and the creature itself is played by director Guillermo del Toro’s long-time collaborator in film, Doug Jones.
The film has an interesting tone that combines and balances an enchanting under-the-sea fairytale with some grim moments and sexual themes. Hawkins really shines in this film. She’s quirky and likeable at the start, but you do feel sympathy for her when she’s alone, and especially when her underwater soul mate is about to get killed. I also respect the film for the cinematography from Dan Laustsen and the original score from Alexandre Desplat. The combination of navy blue and sea green colours, along with 30s music and underwater sounds give the film a unique feel and style. And while on the subject of visuals, the sea monster played by Jones actually looks like its real and not just a crappy CGI effect, like many monster films intend to do. I don’t know whether its flawless CGI, or amazing makeup or wardrobe. But either way, it really feels like it’s a real creature that exists.
However, the story of ‘girl-loves-beast’ or someone finding an unnatural being and wanting to save it isn’t anything unique. It’s been told in many other films from Beauty and the Beast to ET, and the story becomes predictable with no surprise at the end. Furthermore, some of the characters are just flat stereotypes of their roles. For example, Richard Strickland as the basic villain wanting to destroy the monster because it’s not human or “in God’s image” (Gaston, much?). But again, the film’s feel and style make this film seem unique, it’s just the story and a couple of characters that do not. If you’re into enchanted fairytales and don’t mind some adult behaviour along with a few pacing problems in the second act, you’ll enjoy this film.