WHAT: The first trailer for The Shape of Water, a film about interspecies relationships with sea creatures.
WHO: Imaginative dynamo director Guillermo del Toro.
WHY WE CARE: It’s probably nothing. Just a synaptic misfire or a forced association. Either way, though, Fast Company can’t help but notice a troubling resemblance between forthcoming del Toro film, The Shape of Water and M. Night Shyamalan’s career-crippling flop, Lady In the Water (24% on Rotten Tomatoes; $42M gross on a $70M budget.) There’s a lot to unpack here, so let’s investigate.
What the Two Films Have in Common
Titles: They both sound like separate entries in the same series of books by Charlaine Harris.
Career moment: When Shyamalan made Lady in the Water, he was coming off a career stumble, The Village, which made substantially less money than his previous films and had middling reviews. Guillermo del Toro is now following up gothic horror thriller Crimson Peak, which had enthusiastic reviews but ultimately made back just over half its budget domestically. The Shape of Water isn’t quite do-or-die time for a director as respected as del Toro, but he’s in need of a cultural and financial hit now more than at just about any point in his illustrious career thus far.
“Fairy tale” marketing: Lady in the Water was billed, fairy tale-style, as “a classic bedtime story for a new generation.” Indeed, the film is purported to have started its life as a bedtime story Shyamalan told his kids. The YouTube copy for The Shape of Water trailer bills it as “an other-worldly fairy tale,” and the narrator of the trailer speaks in fairy tale tones.
Interspecies relationship with a sea creature: In the case of the earlier film, the creature is Bryce Dallas Howard’s beautiful water nymph and the relationship is friendly/parental. In The Shape of Water, the creature is an actual Swamp Thing-esque seabeast of the male variety, and the relationship with the female protagonist looks to be of a romantic nature. It’s like a gender-flipped Splash situation, only without the comedy, but it’s still a relationship nonetheless.
Mute protagonists: Okay, so Bryce Dallas Howard’s aqua-pixie wasn’t 100% silent, but she barely speaks at all, and when she does, it’s to say words like ‘narf,’ which is what her character technically is called. (Ugh, that movie.) In The Shape of Water, though, Sally Hawkins is fully mute, with sign language and subtitles to assist the audience.
What the Two Films Don’t Have in Common
Thankfully, a world of difference separates the two projects. The Shape of Water follows Hawkins’ meek office cleaner as she stumbles upon a secret classified experiment involving a Black Lagoon-type sea creature. Rather than some crappy modern apartment complex with annoyingly quirky residents, where Lady in the Water unfolds, the new film takes place in and out of government buildings during Cold War-era arms development. Also, Shape appears to have a real, formidable villain in the form of the ever-menacing Michael Shannon, whereas Lady asked viewers to be scared of something called a scrunt. While the two films definitely share some ingredients, the trailer suggests that Shape has enough going in its favor to make its own unique splash in theaters. Ultimately, holding the two next to each other may be more like comparing apples and scrunts.