By Ryan Keating-Lambert
The Shape of Water is a gothic fairy tale full of originality and heart. Charming and truly captivating from start to finish, not to mention a visual feat that only Guillermo Del Toro could pull off.
Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins), a mute cleaner in a top secret American government research facility in the ’60s, befriends a strange aquatic beast (Doug Jones), but must keep their relationship hidden from fierce project director Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon).
Director Guillermo Del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth) has certainly outdone himself with this one. After mixed reviews of his last film, the misunderstood gothic romance Crimson Peak, the director has returned to the fairy tale mould with The Shape of Water, and conjured up some lovable and truly memorable characters.
Hawkins is phenomenal. She exudes a childlike innocence and Alice in Wonderland like curiosity as the big and bright eyed cleaner (with a rather raunchy morning routine). Also notable however, is Richard Jenkins as Elisa’s queer roommate Giles. The two characters have wonderful chemistry and their relationship thrives in their stunning amber lit apartment above an old movie theatre. Combined with Elisa’s workmate and friend, Octavia Spencer’s HILARIOUS Zelda, the three make a trio of lovable misfits.
Michael Shannon’s Strickland has a hyper-masculine and intimidating presence that’s also unforgettable. His bitterness and hatred for what’s different steadily grows over the course of the film. Doug Jones is fantastic as the amphibian creature that resembles a kind of hybrid between the Creature from the Black Lagoon and Hellboy’s Abraham Sapien, also played by Jones and directed by Del Toro.
Despite the fairy tale influence, similar to that of Pan’s Labyrinth or The Devil’s Backbone, Del Toro keeps it interesting and very adult with darker themes of communication or its lack thereof, not to mention casual racism. Strickland treats all characters horribly, but especially Elisa and the creature whom he completely disregards due to their inability to communicate. These characters are then pushed to become somewhat revolutionary in retrospect. Strickland’s arrogance and impatience make this story a timely ode for both the Cold War era, and modern day.
Surprisingly though, Del Toro’s masterpiece is also packed with humour. Octavia Spencer is truly gifted in roles like this and lights up every scene – Zelda is The Help’s Minnie cranked up a notch. Jenkins is also hilarious as the bitter old gay man. There’s a particularly funny scene involving a cat…
The production design is also exquisite and signature Del Toro, and the original score by Alexandre Desplat is superb and so playful when coupled with songs of old Hollywood from which Elisa takes so much inspiration from.
More than worthy of awards, The Shape of Water is a phenomenal film and I think it’s going to be hard to top this year. I am a massive Del Toro fan but this is a movie for everyone. Timeless and sure to clean up at the Oscars where it has 13 nominations. Fingers crossed.
In Czech cinemas 15th of February.
Photo: James Jean