The Shape of Water Movie Review (Spoiler Free)
The Shape of Water is a love letter to classic monster flicks. It intertwines a lush fable world effectively with old-school cinema.
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Cast: Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Octavia Spencer, Doug Jones, Michael Stuhlbarg, David Hewlett, Nick Searcy, Allegra Fulton & Lauren Lee Smith.
Run Time: 123 min.
US Release: 22 December 2017
UK Release: 14 February 2018
German Release: 15 February 2018
Guillermo del Toro’s latest fantasy feature was screened along a ton of festivals late last year. I am a big fan of his projects because the man has a good sense of transforming fairy-tales into mythical visual marvels. While I wasn’t sold on the first Hellboy or Crimson Peak, I need to admit that del Toro always manages to capture the essence of mystic and awe in his fabrications. For that reason alone, I was looking forward to seeing his new film, not quite sure what to expect. What I obtained was a beautiful blend of mystery and drama.
Set in the American Cold War era of the 1960’s, a secret high-security government facility experiments on a bipedal amphibian creature (Jones). The experiments are overseen by the cruel Colonel Strickland (Shannon). When the isolated and lonely Elisa (Hawkins), a cleaning maid working in the facility, discovers the creature her world is filled with love and excitement.
This is a sweet and innocent love story about two lovers from different worlds, using a similar style as the French romantic movie Amelie. While it might show an unorthodox relationship between Elisa and the Amphibian Man, the two are more alike than first sight might let to believe, especially since both don’t feel whole; Elisa because of her muteness and the specimen due to the fact that it was taken from his home and brought to the human world. Contrasting the naivety of the romance is a brute and bloody violence from an evil government employee. A perfect metaphor for this tale’s message - the fantasy of love versus the harsh reality that life can be.
The plot also contains a surprising amount of humour, which emerges unexpectedly but works well in the context of the narrative. What impacted me positively, is the fact that this picture is a visual evidence for del Toro’s love of classic films and monster movies. He respects and understands the genre so well, that he created one of the best original fantasy tales I have seen since Pan’s Labyrinth. The script does have one issue, though, which is the pacing that slows down dramatically in the third act. On the other hand, the dialogue was quite mesmerizing and emotional, especially given fact that the main character communicates through sign language.
I need to give praise to all of the actors, as there is not one person who gave a bad performance. All of them are at the top of their game, believable as the person (or creature) they played. Octavia Spencer and Richard Jenkins alone, give some of their top renditions for their side roles. What I found fascinating about the different personalities was that every single one experienced the same emptiness and incompletion, but they all dealt with it differently.
Sally Hawkins is simply fantastic as the lead character Elisa, there is no other way to describe it! Elisa is mute, meaning that Hawkins can’t express her sentiments verbally, yet she manages to overcome that obstruction by gesturing her emotions, using some of the best body language I saw on film. Elisa herself is a really likeable person; a little bit naive but incredibly smart and attentive. She works for a shady government agency as a cleaning lady but secretly learns about that place by listening and observing.
Michael Shannon is amazing as the main villain. He plays Richard Strickland, a Colonel of the U.S. Army and a horrible sadist, who enjoys watching others suffer in pain. It is fascinating to watch as the narrative slowly turns the tables on his character and that of the fish-man. The end result could not have happened without the terrific performance by Shannon.
Doug Jones is the “Andy Serkis” of costumed acting. The man portrayed several roles under tons of makeup, including a similar role in the Hellboy series and I am always surprised at how much emotion he can express facially under all them masks, especially in this role where he does not speak. Similar to Hawkins, Jones uses bodily gestures and facial grimaces, to convey what he is thinking and feeling. He became the Amphibian Man.
Visually, this is a picture book that came to life on the big screen, making use of striking blue and green tints that enhance the story. Cinematographer Dan Laustsen and del Toro took beautiful master-shots, which focused equally on the characters as well as the fantastic locations. This also adds some optical comedy to the plot. The sets and locations depict the 60’s perfectly, and the apartments look like something out of a fairy-tale, with their large arched windows. The makeup design looks great, especially that of Doug Jones, who was transformed into the Amphibian Man and the costumes contrasted the atmospheric colour-palette at times, with the bright reds and humble gold.
The soundtrack, composed by Alexandre Desplat, is amazing and just as the cinematography, enhances the feeling of this dream-like world. I was instantly hooked at the suave tunes, which sent chills down my back during the more emotional segments.
Verdict: Guillermo del Toro proved once again why he is the master of the fantasy genre. This is a beautiful fairy-tale about love, pain and finding a place of acceptance. While the pacing is a little off during the last act, the story itself is absolutely gorgeous and uses the genres of romance and drama as metaphors to two contradicting emotional spectrums. The characters are written incredibly well and the portrayals are all powerful, with Sally Hawkins and Doug Jones giving some of the best bodily performances on screen. Octavia Spencer and Richard Jenkins are extraordinary in their side roles, while Michael Shannon absolutely nails it as the villain. The camera-work is compelling; with each scene looking like a painting that came to life and the music is hauntingly beautiful, complimenting the relationship between Elisa and the fish-man. I adore The Shape of Water and will give it a 9 out of 10.
I do recommend you go see this fantasy-romance in theatres, I know I will go again and already pre-ordered my copy on Blu-ray. As a side note, I will review all previous Hellboy adaptations before the new flick comes out in theatres next year. Thank you for reading my review and if you liked it, please give it a thumbs up and share it.