Written By: Nick Poulimenakos
A man who is known for his out-of-the-box and diverse style of filmmaking, Guillermo del Toro really has done it all when it comes to cinema. He has crafted superhero horror films such as Hellboy, visually dazzling features like Pan’s Labyrinth and even blockbuster popcorn flicks like Pacific Rim. With every film del Toro develops, there is always heart to it. The noted director never creates a film that he has not poured his soul into. The Shape of Water is no different. As del Toro jumps from genre to genre with his latest film, The Shape of Water centres on a love story between star-crossed lovers. Taking a page out of every del Toro film that came before it, does The Shape of Water continue the acclaimed director’s winning streak at the theatre? Continue reading to find out…
The Shape of Water follows Elisa, a lonely mute woman who works as a cleaning lady at a secret government facility during the cold war. When the facility brings in a new, classified asset, Elisa’s life changes forever as he discovers the asset to be a mysterious amphibious creature from South America. Elisa soon develops a unique bond with the creature but when she realizes that its survival rests in her hands, Elisa, along with her friends, work together to keep the creature out of the government’s destructive hands.
The Shape of Water is arguably Guillermo del Toro’s finest work yet. From its opening sequence about a “princess without a voice,” del Toro superbly genre-blends a love story that is heartfelt and visually stunning. As with any del Toro film, visuals have never been a weak point, but The Shape of Water especially uses its setting to further enhance its beautiful story. The film’s use of luxurious colours and well-defined 1960’s design along with its terrific framing of every scene gives the viewer a historically familiar setting but still unique enough to convey the fantasy/fairy-tale vibe it strives for. Each frame is so lovingly crafted, being filled with a sense of wonder and discovery.
A film that is both weird and wonderful, The Shape of Water acts as del Toro’s love letter to classic monster films as well as vintage romantic movies. Elisa is a character that is seen by the world as damanged and incomplete, having not been able to speak since her birth. Enter the monster, who was inspired by the Creature from the Black Lagoon. Elisa discovers the creature and immediately she is drawn to him, for he does not see her as disabled. Both are, in some way, trapped, but together, they feel whole and welcomed. With co-writer Vanessa Taylor, del Toro weaves together a love story that shines a light on social intolerance; who you are allowed to love and what society deems to be okay. It is a wonderful and powerful narrative that is equal parts haunting as it is striking.
The ensemble cast shines throughout the film’s two hour runtime. Sally Hawkins is absolutely phenomenal as Elisa. In a role with almost no lines, Hawkins is able to convey so much emotion through her face and body language as you immediately sympathize with the character’s current situation. She is able to say so much more with her soulful eyes than she could ever put into words. Doug Jones reunites with del Toro as the amphibious creature in a career-defining performance. Along with Hawkins, Jones’ performance is one of silence, aside from his monstrous roars. Despite this, Jones is able to take advantage of his mime talent and deliver a performance that demonstrates every emotion and desire the monster is feeling. Michael Shannon stars as the film’s main antagonist and The Shape of Water shows that Shannon is one of the most talented actors working today. He’s able to go from a tragic hero in one film to a sadistic villain in the next and his performance here is entertaining and all kinds of vicious.
Octavia Spencer serves as Elisa’s translator and trusted friend and she shines in the role. The loyal, wisecracking janitor manages to give the heartfelt feature quite a bit of levity as most of the film’s comedy stems from Spencer. Finally, Richard Jenkins as Elisa’s neighbour and closeted gay artist was terrific. His character was perfect for Elisa to bounce her silent anger off of and Jenkins gets to be both hilarious and tormented here.
If I had one complaint about this film, it is that Michael Stuhlburg should have been given a bigger role. Even in a film that is almost solely centered on the love between a woman and a monster, del Toro was able to create an intriguing story about Stuhlburg’s Russian spy character. With the little he is given, Stuhlburg is able to deliver a great performance here and some more screen time would have allowed for the character to be fleshed out even more. But, it was not his story and the character served his purpose. So this is more of a nitpick than anything else.
For music, del Toro hired Alexandre Desplat to create the score for the film and it was remarkable. Desplat was able to construct a musical score that was quiet and affectionate but was also impactful and brutal when it needed to be. Music is used to help the viewer gain insight as to what our characters are feeling and that has never been more prevelant than with The Shape of Water. Since our two leads cannot speak, Desplat’s unique compositions are present for a different kind of dialogue. It complements our characters with melodic but gentle emotion that only add to the love Elisa and the monster feel for each other.
The Shape of Water is Guillermo del Toro at his very best. With a narrative that speaks to the current events of the world, del Toro and co-writer Vanessa Taylor shape a film that is not only a homage to vintage Hollywood, it subsists in its own contemporary frame of mind. Led by a fantastic performance by Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water is a story of crossing limitations, unorthodox romance and overcoming the status quo. It is a tale of true beauty and nature and at its centre is one giant beating heart. Mythical, thrilling and, above-all-else, passionate, The Shape of Water is a love story like no other and proves to be one of 2017’s most brilliant and engaging cinematic experiences.
Nick’s Rating – 9.5/10
Mathew’s Rating – 9.5/10
Artur’s Rating – 9/10
The Shape of Water is in theatres everywhere now.