An amphibious humanoid is brought in to a government laboratory in 1960s Baltimore. Officer Strickland seems to have it in mind to research the creature to death, preferably via torture. Lonely, horny, mute cleaner Elisa spots a similarly alienated sole in the creature. She communicates with him via jazz records, sign language, and boiled eggs. And she hatches a plot to break him out of captivity. . .
I heard good things, I like Del Toro’s work, this is my kind of geek fantasy film, and it is nominated for Best Film at this year’s Oscars. So why was I disappointed?
The idea is good – the Creature From The Black Lagoon in a doomed romance with a damaged woman, and a sadistic baddie looming in the shadows. The performances are excellent. Sally Hawkins is heartbreaking, Doug Jones’ physical presence is, as always, flawless, and Michael Shannon is chilling. He’s over the top, but he is supposed to be.
The execution is mostly good, but it is here in the execution where things start going downhill. I think we are supposed to look beyond the credibility of the situation and accept the film as a work of art. But I found this difficult. I could accept Elisa hesitantly croaking accompaniment to one of the records, especially after discovering the creature has an ability to heal, which is never explained or explored. I was less accepting of the full-blown Hollywood song and dance routine which followed.
Ultimately, what sunk the film for me was the bucketsful of Stupid and unanswered questions, especially in the latter half. Why did no-one try to communicate with the creature? Why were they intent on destroying him sadistically? Why did the laws of physics not apply in Elisa’s bathroom? What was the point of Strickland’s bloodied handkerchief? Why didn’t they just take the creature straight to the sea? These are a mere handful – there are many more.
I wanted to love this film. I admit that I liked it, but there was so much wrong with it that I should have liked it a whole lot more. Yes, it’s a fantasy, a romance, a fable, but it didn’t have to be so dumb.