Review by C.J. Bunce

Guillermo del Toro’s At Home With Monsters was an eye-opening look at the depths to which the renowned fantasy film director has gone to immerse himself in the creative process, revealing images of his own personal collection of the strange, creepy, and unique from scree-used artifacts to oversized recreations of the Universal Monsters that inspired him early on.  The book (reviewed here at was a great entryway to prepare readers and audiences for his latest film, The Shape of Water, nominated for thirteen Academy Awards and reviewed earlier here this week.  The latest look into the mind of del Toro explores this movie from its inception to the final filming decisions.  It all can be found in Insight Editions’ new volume The Shape of Water: Creating a Fairy Tale for Troubled Times, by Gina McIntyre.

In a year that saw a failed re-launch of the Universal Studios famed monster movies with the first installment The Mummy (reviewed here), it would be del Toro who brought forth a worthy retelling of sorts of that studio’s Creature from the Black Lagoon.  The idea for a story of an Amphibian Man and Beauty and the Beast story where the creature is united with a mute janitorial worker began in 2011 in a simple conversation.  As time went on del Toro and screenplay co-writer Vanessa Taylor built a story, and del Toro singled out actors for key roles.  First and foremost was Sally Hawkins as lead character Elisa, who oddly enough was writing her own story about a mermaid that didn’t know she was a mermaid.  del Toro and Hawkins began working together at that point.  As with his other films, del Toro creates biography sheets for his characters.  Included in McIntyre’s book are tipped-in pages of some of these biographies, allowing readers and writers to examine how much the actors were given about their roles as backstory.

Along with the genesis of the story, The Shape of Water: Creating a Fairy Tale for Troubled Times examines the creation of the four suits worn by Doug Jones as the creature.  Hawkins, Jones, and co-stars Richard Jenkins, Octavia Spencer, Michael Stuhlbarg, and Michael Shannon, all describe their takes on their roles, their work with del Toro, and their interaction with other performers.  McIntyre includes interviews with del Toro, the key cast and production crew, including insight rarely seen in behind the scenes movie books, like rationale for costume designs, provided here by costume designer Luis Sequiera.  del Toro not only significantly backed the production for years financially, he was involved in every key decision in the film.  He kept costs down by in part utilizing the sets for the television series The Strain.  

The book examines the unique color palette that audiences will take away as a hallmark of this film.  A highlight is the discussion of the black and white scene from the film, unthinkably shot in a single day.  Much of the film relied on old-school practical effects, including actual underwater filming with Doug Jones in costume, but del Toro also incorporated digital effects for the more dangerous scenes and clean-up work.  The multi-year process for designing and revising the creature suit from clay to prosthetics, foam, and rubber is well documented in the book.

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