The Shape Of Water

Director: Guillermo del Toro.
Screenplay: Guillermo del Toro, Vanessa Taylor.
Starring: Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Doug Jones, Octavia Spencer, Michael Stuhlbarg, Nick Searcy, Cyndy Day, David Hewlett, John Kapelos, Lauren Lee Smith, Morgan Kelly, Nigel Bennett, Stewart Arnott.

“The natives in the Amazon worshipped it. Like a god. We need to take it apart, learn how it works”

Guillermo del Toro has found himself to be quite the respected filmmaker over the years but, if I had to be brutally honest, I’d have to say that he’s really only made a few films that could be classed as ‘great’ and he’s not adverse to being disappointing on occasion. His latest films, Crimson Peak and Pacific Rim received a very mixed reception with the latter, in particular, being a huge misfire for me. That said, I do admire the man’s imagination and I keep returning, hoping to see something of the greatness of Cronos, The Devil’s Backbone and most importantly his near masterpiece of fantasy, Pan’s Labyrinth. His latest, The Shape of Water, doesn’t quite hit the heights of the latter but that still doesn’t stop in from being del Toro’s best film for quite some time.

Plot: Working in a hidden, high-security government laboratory, mute cleaner Elisa (Sally Hawkins) stumbles across a secret, unknown amphibian creature (Doug Jones) which is overseen by agent Strickland (Michael Shannon). Not before long, she develops an emotional attachment to this classified experiment that the government see as an “asset”. As their relationship develops, Elisa is forced take matters into her own hands which is seen as threat to national security.

The thing that’s sets del Toro’s fantasies apart from the rest is his ability to mesh them with other genres while also injecting a realistic element to them. The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth benefited greatly from their political undercurrent while also tapping into horror and folklore, respectively. The Shape of Water feels very much in tune with them and on this occasion he taps into the Cold War paranoia of America while also recognising the psyche that plagued the country during the secrecy of the Roswell incident and pays homage to the old Hollywood monster movies of yesteryear.

There’s a lot of care and attention went into this; from Nigel Churcher’s rich art direction and Dan Lausten’s beautifully rendered cinematography which compliment del Toro’s vision and evocation of 1960’s Americana. It’s the kind of meticulous attention to detail that Todd Haynes would be proud of. But again, it’s del Toro’s ability to create his own niche by giving the film a very European flavour where I was reminded, on quite a few occasions, of Jean-Pierre Juenet’s Amelie which is achieved through the magical score by Alexandre Desplat.

It boasts a marvellous central performance from Sally Hawkins who’s entirely convincing as a mute where she’s so animated and expressive that it’s easy to forget that she doesn’t actually speak a word (with the exception of singing a musical number) throughout the entire film. Great support too from the imposing and always reliable Michael Shannon and the hugely underrated Richard Jenkins. Jenkins, in particular, brings a much needed light-heartedness to the film and despite being better known for his dramatic chops it’s often overlooked just how good his comedic timing is. Here, it’s on wonderfully subtle display.

On paper, The Shape of Water probably sounds preposterous but visually and emotionally it’s a vibrant experience that manages to be sweet, suspenseful and exciting all in equal measure. Put simply, this really shouldn’t work but it’s credit to del Toro that it does. He masterfully balances all of these elements and combines a romantic love story and sci-fi creature fable that culminates into a very convincing adventure.

Mark Walker

Trivia: The creature design is heavily inspired by the film The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954). Michael Shannon’s character even says they picked it up in a river in South America, which is the setting of The Creature from the film.

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20 Responses to “The Shape Of Water”

  1. Good stuff man. I wish I had that reaction but there were some storytelling blunders that I just couldn’t get past. I love the look of the film and the cast, but some of del Toro’s decisions left me scratching my head.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I loved it. Glad you did, too!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I enjoy ypur reviews very much. ☺

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Nice review Mark. Though the story does have some problems, Water is such a beautiful film to look at, plus the performances by Hawkins and Jenkins are superb as well.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Cheers, man. It did have some story issues but they weren’t enough to spoil my enjoyment. As for Hawkins and Jenkins – they were marvellous. I’ve been a huge Jenkins fan for years and it’s great to see him get another Oscar nomination for this. I’d love to see him win it.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m still waiting to see ut as it will be released only on 14.02 in Italy… argh! Great review!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Another one for the list! Will await its release. I must say I was surprised at the number of Oscar noms it’s had. Didn’t think I’d see a fantasy fairy tale pick that number up.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I need to find time to see this one, Mark. Anything by Del Toro is usually something I enjoy.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. […] Guillermo del Toro masterfully manages to balance genres by combining a romantic love story and a sci-fi creature fable that culminates into a visually and emotionally vibrant experience. Full review here. […]

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