Film review by Claire Durrant of The Shape of Water, a fantasy adventure about a mute laboratory cleaner (Sally Hawkins) who strikes up a relationship with a ‘classified’ creature.
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Mute Elisa (Sally Hawkins) is trapped in a lonely and repetitive existence, working as a cleaner at a government laboratory. One day she and co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer) discover a classified amphibious creature (Doug Jones). Elisa strikes an immediate bond with the creature, which becomes difficult once her superior Colonel Strickland (Michael Shannon) announces his plans on performing vivisection on it. With the help of Elisa’s neighbour (Richard Jenkins), the two plot on rescuing the creature.
Review, by Claire Durrant
I was fortunate enough to catch Guillermo del Toro‘s latest feature at the London Film Festival. The Shape of Water is a dark fairy tale drenched in appreciation of vintage cinema and juxtaposed with 1960s Cold War paranoia and violence.
Toro is truly back on fantastic form with his storytelling, and I think we can all be glad he turned down directing the sequel to Pacific Rim (2013) to focus more on his passion for smaller, more artistic pictures.
And this is exactly what this film is; art. Toro and cinematographer Dan Laustsen have created a plethora of beautiful shots, that I couldn’t help but feel a slight twinge as it brought my cynical heart moments of joy.
The score is also captivating, with jazz and blues music establishing the film’s romanticism. The best way to describe this film is overwhelmingly charming.
Hawkins is alluring to watch as Elisa with a performance that is subtle yet exuberant. It is a testament to her talent that she can act with her facial expressions and mannerisms to such a degree that I often forgot she was a mute.
Elisa’s connection to the amphibian creature is so believably passionate, that every time I felt ‘icky’ about their relationship (she is essentially having sex with a fish monster), Elisa would simply smile and I’d be back rooting for the two again.
Jenkins, however, gives my favourite performance in the film as Elisa’s neighbour Giles, an elderly gay artist coming to terms that he may never find love. Jenkins is superb as always, and you can’t help empathise with the quiet melancholy he emits.
Shout out to my beloved Shannon who is always perfect as the bug eyed, deranged, mad man. I really could just watch him yell at people for hours!
There is a strong motif of unfulfilled lives in The Shape of Water. Zelda is in an unhappy marriage, Giles lives in secrecy due to his sexuality (which has also left him jobless), and lonely Elisa is unable to communicate with the world. So even though the amphibian creature acts more animal than man, you still understand and celebrate the love and relationship between him and Elisa.
If I had one gripe about the film, it would be that I don’t think the third act is as strong as the first two. There is also a song and dance sequence towards the end that I thought was too kitsch.
But the film charmed me and had me from the opening scene, so I can overlook a relatively small flaw.
I’m so happy that Toro has another great film in his repertoire; this is definitely his best since Pan’s Labyrinth (2006). Gothic but alluring, dark yet beautiful, Toro is a master of balancing the two. Don’t miss this captivating feature next year on the big screen.
For more, see the official trailer on the official website.
Cast and Credits
Director: Guillermo del Toro. Bull Productions/Double Dare You/Fox Searchlight Pictures.
Producers: J. Miles Dale, Guillermo del Toro.
Writers: Guillermo del Toro, Vanessa Taylor.
Camera: Dan Laustsen.
Music: Alexandre Desplat.
Sets: Paul D. Austerberry.
Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Octavia Spencer, Michael Stuhlbarg, David Hewlett, Doug Jones.