“The Shape of Water” stars Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Doug Jones, Michael Stuhlbarg, and Octavia Spencer. Released on December 8, 2017, the film is about a mute janitor who starts an unexpected relationship with an amphibian creature.
The film is directed by Guillermo del Toro, who also directed films such as Mimic, Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth, and Crimson Peak. After a few weeks of waiting since its release, I was finally able to check out del Toro’s latest fantasy film. The reason why it took me so long to review this is because I was waiting for it to appear at my closest cinema, but since I found out that it was nominated for seven Golden Globe nominations, my patience started to run dry. So I decided to head on down to the cinema down in Brookfield, which I’ve been to plenty of times, to see it before the year is done. Guillermo del Toro always has a unique imagination that transforms his haunting concepts into movie experiences, as shown in Pan’s Labyrinth and Crimson Peak. He also has a knack in making some pretty entertaining action movies like Hellboy and Pacific Rim (my favorite del Toro film so far). So there’s no reason for me to not be excited for his next directorial effort. A lot of critics are declaring it as his best work since Pan’s Labyrinth, but do I feel the same way?
The story is set during the Cold War in the 1960s, where an orphaned mute woman (Hawkins) works as a janitor at a research facility. When the Colonel (Shannon) brings in a strange sea monster in the facility for experimentation, an unusual bond starts to form between the woman and the monster. Now you’re probably thinking that this film sounds like a combination between Creature from the Black Lagoon and Beauty and the Beast. Well, it clearly is, but it has its own cinematic appeal that blends its dreaded, creepy atmosphere with its light-hearted, dream-like sense of beauty. It definitely has some plot elements that we’re familiar with, but del Toro was able to make those elements work, and the result was absolutely magnificent. I would even say that this is the most marvelously-crafted films that I’ve seen from the director. Sally Hawkins delivered her best performance in her career as Elisa Esposito, a mute janitor who communicates by using American Sign Language. The first time I was introduced to the actress was from the 2014 family film, Paddington, but it was this film that made me realized how strongly talented she is. Her facial expressions and body language help define her characteristics and emotions in a way that’s far more compelling than dialogue, and Hawkins did a brilliant job at expressing that. Michael Shannon as the Colonel was really disturbing, but also quite raw. Richard Jenkins was really enjoyable as Elisa’s neighbor and Octavia Spencer was a delight as always as Zelda, Elisa’s friend and co-worker. The production design and the costumes worked very well together in recreating the feel of 1960s Baltimore. It’s almost like something that I would find in a Tim Burton film, but without the involvement of Burton himself. The cinematography by Dan Laustsen was amazing for depicting some of the most beautiful sequences ever to be put into film, including its short black-and-white musical number. Speaking of music, the score by Alexandre Desplat was actually quite impressive in terms of enhancing the film’s dark, yet light-hearted appeal. I would also give this film props for the design of the Amphibian Man, who is portrayed wonderfully by Doug Jones, by using traditional makeup instead of CGI or motion capture. It really blends in with the realistic tone and makes the creature more believable for the audience.
Overall, with some captivating performances, del Toro’s direction, its beautiful cinematography and production design, and an impressive score by Desplat, “The Shape of Water” is another piece of cinematic wonder. While there’s nothing too special about the plot, the film was able to work its way around its cliches by delivering a marvelous-looking experience that’s compelling, dark, and heartwarming. In my opinion, I would say that it’s just as good as Pacific Rim. I would highly recommend it to those who are fans of del Toro’s other works. As for everybody else who aren’t, well, I would still say that it’s worth a watch for Hawkins’ performance and its technical achievements.