By Adam Ray Palmer
I cannot tell you how excited I was for this movie. 8:30 this morning when the lights went out, I felt as happy as the first time I caught Del Toro’s Pans Labyrinth over a decade ago.
This is Guillermo del Toro’s latest film following his Crimson Peak feature in 2015. GDT is now back where he belongs with a fantasy film lighting up a festival…
The Shape of Water is a romantic horror film directed by del Toro and co-written with Vanessa Taylor. The film stars Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Doug Jones, Michael Stuhlbarg, and Octavia Spencer.
Set in 1962, a mute janitor named Elisa (Sally Hawkins) and her cleaner colleague Zelda (Octavia Spencer) work in a government laboratory where mysterious things take place behind closed doors. The duo is instructed to clean a certain lab before the impending arrival of an ‘asset’. The Asset (Doug Jones) is extremely important to the government so they put Strickland (Michael Shannon), a superior to the ladies, in charge of looking after the amphibious creature. Out of loneliness and being different to everyone else around her, Elisa befriends the creature.
Guillermo del Toro’s films have always been a little different, but The Shape of Water is pure oddness even by his standards. Yes, there’s another alluring creature here, but the villains throughout are the twisted humans that can’t see the beauty of being different. We see The Asset all menacing at the premise, but he’s misunderstood like the two central protagonists we follow.
The silent yet bright-eyed Elisa is an orderly, unchanging lady who lives her life like a daily routine. She works nights at the lab, she sees her friend Giles (Richard Jenkins) during the day and goes about her lonely life in peace. An opening narration describes her as “a princess without a voice” – a rhythmical way of telling the audience she’s a lifelong mute, after having her vocal cords cut in childhood.
The narration is provided by Elisa’s best friend Giles, a quietly gay man who’s only sexual interaction is a gentle flirt with the nearby coffee shop guy. He’s a cagey illustrator that requires Elisa in his life. As she states a need for helping the creature via a rescue attempt, he quickly realises that the larger picture could help him with his own character flaws too.
Both Hawkins and Jenkins are on top form here. Sally’s performance is meticulous, fragile and measured. She’s so subtle in everything she does. Her character development throughout is incredible penmanship from del Toro and Taylor. She’s a timid wallflower that has strong sexual desires from the outset, but she grows in confidence throughout and becomes a fairy-tale heroine by the final act.
The Shape of Water is del Toro’s best since the Pans Labyrinth in 2006. It’s charming, it’s mysterious and it’s beautifully shot. The director is at the top of his game creating moments
that are pure, cinematic genius. The bathroom filling up with water, the La La Land-like tap dance sequence as Elisa and Giles sit on the sofa and the final few shots are all as breath-taking as each other. I expect serious consideration for the award season boards comes the end of the year. Hawkins must be on the final five list.
This film is so sincere and heart-felt with every word spoken, and it’s even more powerful when there’s no dialogue at all. The score and cinematography go hand-in-hand with the whimsical direction from GDT. The Shape of Water is this year’s Arrival. A moody fairy-tale that’s incredibly humanistic and delicate. It’s incredible how captivating dancing water droplets can be – bravo.
Cineroom’s Rating: 5 Stars
The Shape of Water will be released in the UK on 16th February 2018 – certificate 15