The Films of Guillermo del Toro
The Devil's Backbone (January 15/13)
Set during the Spanish Civil War, The Devil's Backbone follows 12-year-old Carlos (Fernando Tielve) as he's sent to an isolated orphanage after the death of his father - with the movie detailing Carlos' encounters with several key residents and, eventually, his efforts at solving the murder of a fellow student. Filmmaker Guillermo del Toro has infused The Devil's Backbone with an almost excessively deliberate pace that is, at the outset, not too problematic, with the movie's watchable feel perpetuated by del Toro's atmospheric visuals and the periodic inclusion of impressively riveting sequences (eg Carlos' first encounter with the dead pupil). There reaches a point, however, at which the narrative's lulls become frequent and impossible to overlook, as del Toro, along with cowriters Antonio Trashorras and David Muņoz, places far-too-prominent an emphasis on the melodramatic happenings within the aforementioned orphanage - with the most obvious (and lamentable) example of this the tedious love triangle between the establishment's headmistress (Marisa Paredes's Carmen), sole professor (Federico Luppi's Dr. Casares), and groundskeeper (Eduardo Noriega's Jacinto). It is, as such, not surprising to note that the movie peters out significantly as it progresses, with the tiresome heist/robbery that dominates the third act only confirming The Devil's Backbone's place as a hopelessly erratic piece of work. (And it doesn't help, either, that there's an almost total lack of scares here, which ensures that the film ultimately works neither as a historical drama nor a spooky horror flick.)
Hellboy II: The Golden Army
Pacific Rim (August 12/13)
Directed by Guillermo del Toro, Pacific Rim follows several humans as they battle enormous sea monsters using building-sized robots. It's a seemingly foolproof setup that's employed to consistently unwatchable effect by del Toro, with the filmmaker establishing an atmosphere of total incompetence right from the get-go - as Pacific Rim opens with a monster/robot fracas that's devoid of anything resembling excitement or suspense. Del Toro's decision to bathe each and every one of the movie's brawls in rainy darkness proves disastrous, as such moments are consequently drained of their energy and rendered incoherent - which, when coupled with a severe overuse of computer-generated effects (ie everything just looks so fake), ensures that the film's high-octane moments are uniformly useless and without merit. Equally troublesome is the movie's complete lack of compelling human figures; scripters del Toro and Travis Beacham have suffused the proceedings with an assortment of walking clichés, including, among others, a reluctant hero, a tough-as-nails superior, and a pair of wacky scientists. It is, as such, not surprising to note that the various actors are simply unable to breathe any life into their one-dimensional characters, and there's little doubt that the film's tedious midsection, which is devoted primarily to an endless series of training and planning sequences, is unable to hold the viewer's attention even fleetingly (ie it's impossible to work up the slightest bit of interest in the protagonists' hackneyed exploits). By the time the overlong and overblown finale rolls around, Pacific Rim has definitively established itself as a punishing ordeal that just might mark the nadir of the modern big-budget blockbuster - with the movie's relentlessly dour atmosphere merely the tip of the iceberg in terms of its many, many problems (ie the film isn't, despite an inherently ludicrous premise, fun).
Crimson Peak (November 17/15)
A seriously disappointing misfire, Crimson Peak follows Mia Wasikowska's Edith Cushing as she falls for a mysterious stranger (Tom Hiddleston's Thomas Sharpe) and agrees to live with him (and his sister) in an opulent, remote estate - with complications ensuing once it becomes clear that the three characters are not alone in the aforementioned home. It's clear immediately that filmmaker Guillermo del Toro is going for the feel of an old-school and unapologetically gothic horror flick, as Crimson Peak boasts an admittedly eye-popping visual sensibility that's reflected in both the incredible sets and lush cinematography. The deliberate pace is, in the movie's early stages, employed to positive effect by del Toro, with the director's attention to (and emphasis on) small details ensuring that the narrative grows more and more absorbing as time progresses. It's rather disappointing to note, then, that Crimson Peak takes a marked downturn as the action moves to Sharpe's lavish estate, as del Toro and Matthew Robbins' screenplay emphasizes Edith's exploits in and around the house, as well as her eventual investigation into its secrets, to increasingly stagnant effect - with the movie's supernatural elements faring just as poorly due to an overuse of computer-generated effects (ie they're just not scary). And although the climax does possess a vitality that's otherwise missing from the entirety of the second act, Crimson Peak, past a certain point, fizzles out to a degree that's nothing short of unforgivable - which is disappointing, to be sure, given the massive potential of the film's opening stretch.
The Shape of Water (February 5/18)
Guillermo del Toro's best movie in years, The Shape of Water follows mute janitor Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins) as she meets and befriends a unique amphibious creature being held in a top-secret research facility. It's clear immediately that del Toro is aiming for a fairy-tale feel as evidenced by both the content of the narrative and the grandiose nature of the visuals, and there's little doubt that The Shape of Water, as a result, boasts an opening stretch that's rarely anything short of completely hypnotic - with the film's engrossing vibe heightened by Hawkins' captivating work as the sympathetic central character. (Hawkins' stellar turn is undoubtedly matched by a seriously strong supporting cast that includes Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Octavia Spencer, and Michael Stuhlbarg.) Del Toro perpetuates the compulsively watchable atmosphere by peppering the proceedings with spellbinding set-pieces (eg a daring escape attempt), while the film benefits substantially from a script, by del Toro and Vanessa Taylor, that takes the time to develop not just the protagonist but the various periphery figures as well. (It's ultimately difficult to recall a movie that goes to such significant lengths to fully flesh-out its villain.) And although the film does flounder somewhat in its second half - the pace slows considerably, and there are palpable instances of padding during this section - The Shape of Water builds to an exciting climax and note-perfect resolution that effectively ensure it ends on an exceedingly high note, which undoubtedly confirms its place as an uncommonly impressive entry within del Toro's decidedly hit-and-miss body of work.