Panel Discussion: Guillermo Del Toro and the Nuances of Genre in The Shape of Water

Elisa, the film’s mute protagonist, observing the Amphibian Man

January 10th marked the Monsters in the Shape of Water: An Exploration of Genre discussion panel, hosted in collaboration between the Coral Gables Art Cinema and Books & Books. Moderated by Javier Chavez, the Associate Director of the Coral Gables Art Cinema, Miami Herald writer Rene Rodriguez as well as directors Andres and Diego Meza-Valdes assembled at Books & Books to discuss Guillermo Del Toro’s film, The Shape of Water (2017), as well as the nuances of genre with the attending audience. Despite additional seating being brought out twice, the packed panel discussion saw additional members of the audience standing to the sides of the room to listen and engage in the conversation.

At first, discussion drifted from the film The Shape of Water to the nuances of genre. Guillermo Del Toro’s recent win at the Golden Globes for Best Director led to a dissection as to why genre films such as the horror film Silence of the Lambs (1991) or the fantasy film Return of the King (2003) appear to lose their classification as hard genre films once they explode in popularity and critical accolades. The Meza-Valdes brothers agreed that though horror films are popular because they’re cheap to produce, easy to market, and have a ravenous fanbase that will support the movie, they saw horror as a “supergenre”. To them, horror is this tool that can be used in movies in order to blend genres and amplify the effects of the film’s other qualities through tension, such as in films like Stephen Spielberg’s Jaws (1975). Rene found himself agreeing, admitting to being a big defender of hard genre films in his reviews, and referring to the horror genre as the “forbidden fruit” of movies as you grow up and explore other kinds of films. Though this drift away from the discussion of the film itself annoyed some members of the audience, I found it refreshing to see creators and members of the film community alike get lost in their intense passion for the art form.

This dissection of genre turned to apply to the film at hand, as well as other recent horror films such as Get Out (2017), which according to our panel, allows themselves to have “pitfalls of horror”, such as freakish creatures or creepy families, in order to deliver scathing messages and themes about society and prejudice without “feeling like medicine”. When the discussion returned to the topic of The Shape of Water specifically, much praise came from our panel and the audience towards Guillermo Del Toro as a creative visionary. As the dissection continued into Guillermo Del Toro’s fascination with “mature fairy tales”, he was referred to as a “painter of movies”, and someone who “never makes an impersonal film” by our panel. The panel came to the conclusion that Del Toro knows how to teach the audience how to watch one of his films as they watch the movie, and praised his use of role-reversal in The Shape of Water in regard to the horror tropes seen throughout the film, such as turning the movie’s monster into a sympathetic entity without defanging the creature’s monstrous existence.

The next discussion panel will take place on January 29th, and will center on Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread (2017). The discussion panel is a free event, and will take place at Books & Books. You can get tickets to both The Shape of Water and Phantom Thread at the Coral Gables Art Cinema here.

George Ibarra is a Senior at Florida International University, pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in English with a minor in Sociology, along with Certificates in Exile Studies and Film Studies.