After spending the last decade of his career almost primarily in blockbuster territory, writer/director/producer Guillermo Del Toro has returned to smaller budget filmmaking with The Shape of Water. In a recent interview with Collider for his upcoming film, The Bye Bye Man, actor Doug Jones finally dished out some details about Del Toro’s aquatic-themed tale. Namely that Jones is playing some sort of man-fish creature. According to Jones, however, we shouldn’t go into this film expecting a typical sci-fi or horror yarn…
“It’s a 1963 drama—it’s not a sci-fi [film], it’s not a genre film, but I am a creature in it. I’m a fish man that’s kind of a one-off. I’m an enigma, nobody knows where I came from; I’m the last of my species so I’m like a natural anomaly. And I’m being studied and tested in a U.S. government facility in 1963, so the Russian Cold War is on, the race for space is on, so there’s all that backdrop and that undercurrent. I’m being tested for how can they use me for advantages in military or space travel, or my technology—can we make this usable for humans? So they’re trying to keep me a secret from the Russians. Meanwhile, there’s a love story that brews out of it, and that would be the cleaning lady played by Sally Hawkins. She comes and finds me, has sympathy on me, and then that’s the story that you’re really gonna follow with this whole backdrop.”
So it’s a Cold War drama about a female janitor in a secret U.S. compound that falls in love with a political prisoner that both sides want. He just happens to not be human. I love it! The premise is both utterly familiar, yet also filled with the potential to be utterly unique. While I would argue with Jones that this very much does sound like a genre picture, it certainly will not a be a typical one. Then again, since when have Del Toro’s lower key films ever been typical?
Say what you will about Pacific Rim or even Crimson Peak, but you cannot deal the uniqueness of films like Cronos, The Devil’s Backbone, and Pan’s Labyrinth. As much as I enjoy Blade 2 and his Hellboy films (in which Jones played fishman Abe Sapien), those are the three I find myself thinking on most whenever Del Toro is brought up in a conversation. It sounds to me like Jones agrees…
“It is artfully and beautifully [made]—if this doesn’t end up with Guillermo back at the Oscars, I will be surprised. I will be very surprised.”
High praise, but if the film is anything like The Devil’s Backbone or Pan’s Labyrinth, I suspect such a statement will be more than warranted. Del Toro may continue to pine for all of the big budget projects he still wants to make, but I’d rather he just stick to smaller fare where he has greater creative control. A selfish request on my part, of course, but an honest one.
In addition to Jones and Hawkins, The Shape of Water also stars Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Octavia Spencer, Nick Searcy, and Michael Stuhlberg. It lacks a release date, but it expected to arrive before our eyes sometime in the latter half of the year. Fox Searchlight has already been kind enough to scoop it up for domestic release once Del Toro is ready to unleash it upon the world.
Here’s hoping that when it does finally arrive, it will be the Creature from the Black Lagoon-tinged romantic drama (with a dash of espionage intrigue) that we never knew we wanted. Just typing that out makes it seem like an obvious combination of some of my favorite things that I almost feel stupid for not thinking of it myself. If this movie also manages to toss in some Lovecraftian Innsmouth-esque intrigue in a flashback sequence, I could probably die a happy man were I to croak as the end credits roll.