Title: The Shape of Water
MPAA: Rated R for sexual content, graphic nudity, violence and language
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Starring: Sally Hawkins, Octavia Spencer, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Doug Jones
Synopsis: Elisa is a mute, isolated woman who works as a cleaning lady in a hidden, high-security government laboratory in 1962 Baltimore. Her life changes forever when she discovers the lab’s classified secret — a mysterious, scaled creature from South America that lives in a water tank. As Elisa develops a unique bond with her new friend, she soon learns that its fate and very survival lies in the hands of a hostile government agent and a marine biologist.
Director, Guillermo del Toro, describes his latest film as a modern-day fairytale, for adults. Guillermo has often spoken about his love for fairytales and monster movies. When he was younger, growing up in Mexico, he loved watching classic monster films, whether it be King Kong, Frankenstein, or Creature From the Black Lagoon (a film that is most responsible for the making of The Shape of Water). Guillermo once said, “I love monsters, I identify with monsters.” I believe he has always had a fascination for those who look or sound different from the norm. Those who are born with deformities and the obstacles they have to go through just to get by. Guillermo has always had a fascination with these type of people, and one of his greatest strengths is how he allows us to emotionally connect with these creatures, or misfortunate beings, and empathize with them no matter how they make look or act. The great monster movies manage to pull this off as well. By the end of King Kong, most people are able to empathize with the big beast, even though we were petrified of him when we first met him, just like everyone else is in the film. In, The Shape of Water, del Toro has created a film that is very reminiscent of those type of classic monster movies, but still very new, original, and breathtaking in its own right.
If you look at all the different components that make up a film: acting, writing, cinematography, music, editing, etc., The Shape of Water uses all these components, at the height of their powers. This is the kind of film that can gain 10-15 Academy Award Nominations, because everything about it is incredible. However, it does not feel like an “Oscar Bait” type of film, because it is a genre film, first and foremost, and very very unique. When a film manages to be so technically brilliant, but still tell a captivating story, with incredible performances across the board, you have to look at the director. This is the director’s job, to bring everything together so effortlessly, and del Toro manages to do this in ways few other directors could even dare to do. He also understand the power of filmmaking so well. There are many moments and scenes in this film that can only be pulled off in the way it is by film, and the components that make up a movie. No other form of fiction (novels, television, music, etc) can pull off the magic of The Shape of Water, which is why so many movie fans should appreciate this so much. The way it looks and the way del Toro moves his camera is very mesmerizing. It is also a celebration of cinema and the history of classic movies. Hard-core fans of film are gonna eat this up, but fans of classic movies, but maybe not necessarily monster movies, might be pleasantly surprised by it.
The Shape of Water manages to suck you into its world because of how immersive it is. One of my favorite traits that a movie can bring you is if can simply transport you. If I’m watching a movie, and after a while, I forget I’m even watching a film, and am completely sucked into its world, then I know it is something special. Not many films can manage to pull this off, but I got that exact feeling watching The Shape of Water. It’s the kind of film that you have to watch on the big screen. It’s the way it looks and sounds, the incredible production design, and aquatic color palette that allow you to feel like you are swimming in the ocean. There’s no better way to capture all the magic that del Toro provides than glimpsing it on the big screen.
Finally, I would be remiss not to mention the incredible performances from the incredible cast and the fully realized characters they portray. The film begins and ends with our main protagonist, mute, cleaning lady Elisa, played by the always wonderful Sally Hawkins. Hawkins is completely silent throughout the entire film, but she still manages to bring so much levity and vitality to her character. We instantly root for and care for her character, because despite her misfortunes, she is incredibly loyal, empathetic, and caring. I think a lot of people can identify with her character, even if we aren’t mute ourselves, just because sometimes we can feel like we are silent and powerless in a world that is incredibly loud and chaotic. There are many other great characters in this film like Octavia Spencer’s Zelda Fuller, a co-worker and best friend of Elisa. Richard Jenkins’ lonely neighbor, but strong companion for Elisa. Michael Shannon’s menacing government agent, Richard Strickland. And of course Doug Jones’ mysterious and fascinating Amphibian Man. Each character has an arch, and no one feels one-dimensional, and they are all portrayed by incredible actors who really embody each and every one of them. They bring a sense of authenticity and realism to their characters, even though they are in an obviously fictional world from our own.
Overall, The Shape of Water is a one-of-a-kind film, that is visually stunning, technically brilliant, and full of surprises from beginning to end. In the same way La La Land managed to pull this off for me last year, I left the theater feeling very emotionally satisfied and left with a realization of why I love watching movies in the first place. There are many different themes in this film, that almost everyone can interpret it in their own ways. This film speaks about the power of love, human connection, and empathy and how impactful it can be for people, and just how important it is, and why it seems to be lacking in our country nowadays. It also reminds us that if you truly love someone you can look past their imperfections. And politically speaking, it talks about race, class, and gender, and how they’ve shaped our country, but its all done in very subtle ways that do not take away from the story at all. It moves at a fast pace, and has a run time of just over two hours. If you can look past the weird premise and concentrate on what the story is trying to tell you, you will probably really enjoy this film. And if you’re just simply a lover of cinema, it’s gonna be hard not to fall in love with this film in ways that Elisa falls in love with the Amphibian Man.