Guillermo del Toro is the kind of director that has an imaginative style of crafting his movies. Give him an idea, and his mind can come up with many thoughts that can blend the combination of fantastic visuals and storytelling. And while his last couple films were disappointing, to say the least, The Shape of Water was already set up to be his most memorable work yet. So, why hasn’t he won an Oscar at this point?
Elisa (Sally Hawkins) 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 (Michael Shannon) and a marine biologist (Michael Stuhlbarg).
Del Toro’s screenplay that he wrote with co-writer Vanessa Taylor paints a magnificent picture that was all done with the eyes closed and letting everything flow through the mind. It may seem like his version of Creature from the Black Lagoon to him, but it also has that feeling of a classic monster movie made today. The idea of someone having a romantic relationship with a fish-like creature may sound unusual. But, it ended up being special in the way it’s shown through the direction and the connection between the two of them. I thought about it as E.T., but more adult. But this story does a great job at making us care about the characters.
Hawkins as Elisa was mesmerizing throughout. Never watched a lot of stuff she’s been in, but this is one of the best performances of the year. She gives a lot of emotional expressions to her character as she communities through impressive sign language and deep down thinking she wants something more in her life. Her performance doesn’t need any lines of dialogue at all.
Every single supporting player was superb to a high degree. If Shannon’s in anything, there’s a chance he’ll steal every scene he’s in. Because he’s playing this government agent Richard Strickland, you just know the type of villain he will portray. Richard Jenkins as Giles, a closeted artist and Elisa’s neighbor, doesn’t disappoint at any point. Stuhlbarg is just having an impressive 2017 with another role that has his character arc tense and a sense of compassion to him. And Octavia Spencer as Elisa’s co-worker Zelda is always something to look forward to when she’s playing a character like this.
Doug Jones’ performance as the creature was unbelievable because we all know he’s incredible when he does roles that require him under practical makeup, which was great I might add. It may be hard to find a connection between it and Elisa, but it really worked. You can’t tell that there’s a human in that suit. A part of me wants me to think that he’s somehow related to Abe Sapien from the Hellboy movies.
The relationship between this woman and the amphibian creature was deeply compassionate when they appear on screen at times. Their bond with each other is different, but it worked with Elisa giving him hard boiled eggs, listening to music, and communicating with each other.
Every movie that del Toro makes always looks beautiful with its production design in each scene blending in with stunning visuals to capitulate scenes that stand out completely to make it feel like we’re in Cold War era of 1962. Along with those aspects, the cinematography was on-point with each passing moment. And Alexandre Desplat’s score is magical. Besides the score, I’ll be listening to “You’ll Never Know” daily for now on.
The problems that I had with the film was that I felt that the connection between Elisa and the creature felt very rushed when they meet the first two times and it didn’t feel like it was given enough time. And the first 20 minutes left me a little cold at the beginning.
This is a romantic film that doesn’t feel that way as it blends together as a romantic fairy tale. The film took a chance of making us believe that the message of possibly feeling that we must understand who we are by understanding what love is really all about as we shouldn’t let terrible things happen no matter the cause. It just shows that del Toro can just do anything and we will instantly be attached to whatever’s being given to the viewer. Easily his best work his magnum opus Pan’s Labyrinth. By the end of it, it encapsulates the feels that’s completely unexpected in a fulfillment of wonder to be found.
The Shape of Water is uniquely beautiful in the way Guillermo del Toro can truly capture brilliantly with a fantastic, original romantic story and performances.