Guillermo del Toro: more of an aesthetician than a cinematician?
He’s adept at creating cinematic worlds — the costumes! the production design! the practical effects! Oscars parlance: the makeup and hairstyling! — but in service of…? Let’s say he’s more of a world-builder than a storyteller.
He operates in a pre-Disney fairly/folk tale idiom, merging the fantastical imagination of a child with the grim(m) realities of life; the result looks like what happens when the twee former tries to conceive of the twisted latter. In his moral fables, his aesthetic’s operating principle reaffirms the existence of morals in the fable we call life; his universes are dark and messy, but there’s a whimsical method to the weird madness, an order to the immaculate design, a moral order, albeit one that incorporates the potential ugliness of existence all around (he’s an immersive filmmaker, I’ll give him that).
So he riffs on these genre conventions, but rather conventionally? The gestures that populate his work prove shallow and unconvincing, because they feel more like riffs than organic artistry.