Guillermo Del Toro is a master of the modern fairy tale. In The Shape of Water, he tells the story of a budding love between a mute woman named Elisa and a captive fish creature. Like the very best of Del Toro, the film blurs the line between reality and fantasy and succeeds as an allegorical tale about the transformative power of love. Set in the Cold War Era, most of the story takes place in a secret government facility replete with scientists, gung-ho military jerk-offs, and spies. This setting provides the canvass for Del Toro’s peculiar aesthetic, as well as the majority of the tension. The performances are outstanding, from the supporting characters to the leads to the man in the Fish Monster suit. Simply put, The Shape of Water is a gorgeous little tale and the reason why movies can be so magical.
Like the past works of writer-director Bong Joon Ho (Snowpiercer, The Host), Okja isn’t so much an allegory as it is an outright morality tale. The Korean filmmaker seem intent on tackling each and every woe of modern society, from the danger of radioactive waste (and by extension, the short-sighted profit-seeking of big business) in The Host to the accelerating divisions between the wealthy and the poor in Snowpiercer. In Okja, Bong once again wraps his morality tale in a bit of science fiction. The titular Okja is one of several genetically-enhanced pigs, bred for slaughter in an attempt to solve the world’s hunger crisis. Where The Host was an obvious Monster Movie, and Snowpiercer more of a dystopian science fiction film, Okja is mostly a dark piece of satire. It’s just not clear who Bong means to target with his barbs.
Writer-director Nacho Vigalondo is no stranger to off-the-wall storytelling; Los cronocrímenes (Timecrimes) may be the best film featuring time-travel ever. In Colossal, Vigalonda tries his hand at a kaiju movie, but infuses it with his own style. Vigalondo exploits the genre for allegory and dark comedy, crafting an inventive exploration of indulgence, regret, and self-destruction – followed by attempts at self-improvement. The director has a deft command of his characters, abrupt shifts in mood and tone, and thematic allegory. The peculiarity of Colossal is a big part of its appeal, but it has far more to offer than its bizarre gimmick.
And the jinn we created before from scorching fire.
– Quran 15:27 “The Rocky Tract”
Symbolism and metaphor are powerful weapons against oppression, and can also illuminate complex and unbearable situations like war and the subjugation of women. Writer-director Babak Anvari’s debut feature Under the Shadow is a intelligent film that takes full advantage of the setting, situation, and culture of Iran in the 1980’s to spin a terrifying supernatural horror film. Among the background of the Iran-Iraq war, the film depicts a woman and her young daughter as Tehran is bombed and a nefarious Jinn takes residence in their apartment building. Though a supernatural horror film on the surface, Under the Shadow also boasts a rich subtext that explores ideas of misogyny, family struggles, and the gloom of wartime.
Writer-director Jordan Peele’s Get Out is a potent and poignant allegory about modern race relations in suburban America. It is constructed on the skeleton of a slow-burn horror-thriller, with some awkward comedy thrown in for good measure. Satirical to its very core, Get Out ridicules the WASP-y “post-racism” of the middle-upper class, and suggests that despite protestations to the contrary, this racism is just as nefarious as blatant hatred. Through a deft use of genre tropes, Peele develops this allegory to its full potency, and the audience reaps the rewards. As the pieces fall into place, we are eating out of Peele’s hand at every turn and there is only one conclusion: Get Out is a masterpiece, harshly satiric and thoroughly creepy.
When reacting to the trailer for Joe Dante’s Burying the Ex, I remarked that it could be interesting to use the zombie story as a metaphor for a doomed or stale relationship. This film barrels down that road with fervor, and the result is an awkward on-screen relationship that despite literally decaying, just will not die. The film opens with Max (Anton Yelchin) and Evelyn (Ashley Greene) clinging to a relationship that just doesn’t work. They are horribly mismatched from the get-go: she is a vegan tree-hugger with a cause and a blog, and he works at a Halloween shop and loves monster movies and gore. Thankfully, we don’t waste time discovering how these two got together or see the early parts of their relationship, we just see the death throes. It is annoying that the only thing keeping them together from Max’s perspective is the sex – but even the melt-your-face sexiness of Evelyn isn’t enough after she re-decorates their apartment and forces him to go vegan with her, to his credit. When he finally decides to pull the trigger, and he sets up the breakup location, Evelyn is killed while crossing the street.