Anticipation can cloud judgment. Wanting to see something so badly can create unrealistic expectations, creating a scenario where anything less than perfect can ruin the entire experience.
This is my struggle with “The Shape of Water,” the acclaimed fantasy from Guillermo del Toro. While it played in many cities in early December, the film only arrived in the Inland Northwest last week, just a few days after it secured 13 Oscar nominations.
“The Shape of Water” was on my radar for most of 2017. I’m a big fan of del Toro’s work, particularly “Pan’s Labyrinth,” and I’m a pretty strong defender of even his lesser works (“Pacific Rim,” “Crimson Peak”). No matter how many movies I saw, I always knew the 2017 movie year wouldn’t be complete for me until I saw “The Shape of Water.” I even held back a “Best of” list for this publication just to get the chance to include the movie.
I did wind up writing the Best of feature before “The Shape of Water” arrived locally (the story ran last Saturday), but even now I’m not sure the movie makes my Top 20 films of the year.
“The Shape of Water” is very good. From both a technical and storytelling perspective, it deserves every one of its 13 Oscar nominations, and it would be a worthy Best Picture winner. I just didn’t get the experience I wanted from it.
A major contributing factor here is the film’s theatrical trailer, which ran in front of movies big and small for several months. I saw this trailer more than the “Kingsman: The Golden Circle” trailer — and that piece of trash played in front of every movie for a good six months.
The trailer for “The Shape of Water,” unfortunately, follows an ugly Hollywood trend — it reveals way too much of the film’s plot in chronological order, creating a two-minute, hyper-condensed version of the actual movie. While a two-minute montage can’t capture Sally Hawkins’ superb leading performance, or the true scope of Michael Shannon’s evil, it does reveal too much of sequences that would play better unspoiled. I always knew where the movie was going, and it left me anticipating moments rather than trying to experience the story as it played.
This reaction, of course, isn’t really a criticism of the movie. “The Shape of Water” is very good. I wish I had a stronger reaction to it. I’d even prefer to hate it — at least then I’d feel something about it other than boring, clinical admiration.
When I’m looking back on the year in film, my favorites tend to be the ones that gave me unique, surprising experiences. I went to “Get Out” without seeing a single trailer or commercial. I never saw a single image of “The Florida Project” prior to seeing it. I knew the reputation of “The Big Sick,” but purposefully avoided the commercials so the humor would be fresh. I hadn’t even heard of “Colossal” until someone recommended it to me. Even with “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” all I needed to know was Frances McDormand yelled at people.
I can’t speak for other critics, but I suspect most compile their lists based more on what moved or surprised them vs. trying to identify the objective “best.”
So maybe I burned my experience of “The Shape of Water” weeks before I saw it. Similar experiences happened this year with movies like “Dunkirk,” “Baby Driver” and “The Post,” all movies from directors I love. Two of those three made it into my 11-20 spots, but they still weren’t the knock-my-socks-off experiences I had hoped for them.
I suspect “The Shape of Water” will grow on me on subsequent viewings. The Blu-ray will come out and I’ll probably be raving about what I felt I missed the first time around. Look, “The Shape of Water” is very good. I just wish it was more for me.
Tyler Wilson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org