Guillermo del Toro’s latest film, The Shape of Water, brings to the screen his own mesmerizing take on the creature feature with his usual captivating visuals and elegant story telling. This is a beautiful yet dark love story about broken people living in a hostile world, about tolerance and finding a connection.
Set against the backdrop of the Cold War, lonely mute, Elisa (Sally Hawkins), is trapped in a world of isolation. She works as a cleaner at a top-secret US research facility where her only real friends are her artist neighbour Giles (Richard Jenkins) and her fellow cleaner Zelda (Octavia Spencer). When a strange aquatic creature is brought in and held captive for testing, she becomes alarmed when she witnesses its cruel treatment at the hands of a government agent Strickland (Michael Shannon). As she begins to communicate with the creature, she forms a unique, non-verbal relationship with it, which slowly intensifies until it leaves her with no choice but to attempt a rescue, which will change her life forever.
Guillermo del Toro has the ability to twist elements of childhood fantasies and turn them into something far darker yet richer and more thought provoking. In some ways this is his re-imagining of Beauty and the Beast which references back to the classic Hollywood sci-fi B movies, most notably The Creature from the Black Lagoon, but it is also infused with his own unique take on an otherworldly gothic romance fable. The Shape of Water however is much more about the beautiful than the beastly. It is very much about the tolerance of others and seeing beyond their differences, the battle between kindness and evil and ultimately, Love.
All of the key characters in this film, in some way or another, are lonely. Elisa is mute and lives alone, Giles is struggling with his sexuality, Zelda no longer talks with her husband. The amphibious creature is being held captive and even Strickland feels alienated by his surroundings. They are all seeking some sort of connection and yet the message in The Shape of Water is that although it may take many forms, love is the salvation to this loneliness and it will triumph over evil.
A real strength to this film is Guillermo del Toro himself. With all of his films he has the ability to captivate and transport his audience to other worlds by filling them with creativity, style and spirit. He is a master of his craft from the production design to visual effects, his passion for filmmaking oozes out of every frame. The film has a real dream like quality to it, especially given its gorgeous pallet of greens and blues, which is complimented by an equally irresistible and dreamy score from Alexandre Desplat.
Not only is this film rich in colour and sound but also in its performances. Sally Hawkins’ performance is a revelation. As a mute character, she manages to convey so much emotion just through her face and body language. Her character goes on a real emotional journey that displays both frailty and strength. There is also an impressive supporting cast, which brings a real harmony to the film. Octavia Spencer, Richards Jenkins and Michal Stuhlbarg are all excellent whilst Michal Shannon, as the real villain/beast of the film, has a genuinely terrifying screen presence. A special mention also goes to Doug Jones who brings to life the amphibious creature to ensure that the emotions are not just believable but also compelling.
The Shape of Water is an elegant, mature and spellbinding romantic fairytale which is a celebration of love, tolerance and human connection. With all the hallmarks of a Hollywood classic and performances that radiate from the screen, this is a captivating and uplifting love story, which is drowning in beauty with a powerful message. This is a monster movie made with real love.