“The Shape of Water” is directed by Guillermo del Toro and it stars Sally Hawkins as Elisa, a mute janitor who cleans at a government lab which is housing an amphibious creature resembling the Creature from the Black Lagoon. Elisa forms a very personal connection with the creature and she decides that she wants to help the creature escape with the help of her friends played by Octavia Spencer and Richard Jenkins, all while being pursued by a government worker played by Michael Shannon.
If you ask me, this is the type of movie that I’ve been waiting to see from del Toro for a while, one that takes you back to something like “Pan’s Labyrinth” and reminds you what a visionary director he is. His last couple of movies include the perfectly serviceable “Pacific Rim”, and the boring gothic-romance “Crimson Peak”. But “The Shape of Water” looked like a Guillermo del Toro movie if ever there was one and that along with its Oscar buzz was why I was looking forward to it.
In my opinion, Sally Hawkins gives one of the year’s best performances. For the most part, she doesn’t say a single word throughout the entire film and it’s very captivating to see such a range of emotion put on display by just by sign language and facial expressions. This range of emotions is important in not only connecting to her, but also buying into the relationship that’s formed between her and this creature. Luckily, I did end up buying the feelings that she has for the creature and it came off as more sweet and enduring than weird and gross as it could’ve played out.
In supporting roles, both Octavia Spencer and Richard Jenkins are very good as Elisa’s friends, Jenkins in particular standing out as a man with his own personal issues and conflict that I won’t spoil for the sake of this review, but he’s excellent and he certainly plays his part in this movie’s themes regarding prejudice and bigotry. On the other side of that coin is Michael Shannon as the crass, foul character of Strickland who also serves this movie’s themes, making him a very compelling villain and not the one-dimensional government bad guy that the trailers made him out to be.
From a technical standpoint, this is also one of del Toro’s finest films. The effects on the creature, as well as the performance from Doug Jones, make him a very beautiful specimen to look at and the movie itself has a very different visual style. There’s just something about the overall cinematography that feels very damp and melancholy, but not overly dark and brooding. There’s still a slightly warm feeling to it all, fitting the movie’s theme as a whole.
And like I said before, I did end up becoming really attached to both Elisa and the creature. It’s obviously a very sweet relationship that’s formed, one based off of Elisa simply feeling compassion and empathy for an animal that’s being abused by corrupt government officials, but it’s also one based off of genuine romantic feelings. As stated above, that could come off as very weird and even laughable in the hands of other directors, but not del Toro. He did a good job of establishing who Elisa is and what she wants out of life and the end result is a very unique relationship that’s developed very well.
My one criticism towards this movie is in how predictable it gets in the third act. Not to spoil anything at all, but it being a story about someone connecting with a creature that’s being pursued by the government, some tropes are bound to show their face and that’s the case here. By the end of the film, I had a “Well, I saw that coming” feeling and it slightly detracts from the experience.
Overall, “The Shape of Water” was very good. It’s well acted, visually beautiful, and it’s not short of some very sweet and sincere moments that come from a genuinely moving relationship that’s formed. This is a solid return to form for del Toro after his past couple of movies have been just decent at best, and it won’t be a surprise to hear his name come Oscar time.
Rating: Full Price!