“The Shape Of Water” is a beautiful tale about love and loneliness that touches the depths of the audience’s imagination, whilst being one of the most creatively challenging films in many years. A lovely, lovely offering from Guillermo Del Toro.
A mute woman Elisa (Sally Hawkins) works as a cleaning lady in a top secret, government-run facility during the Cold War. One day, a strange capsule arrives to Dr. Hoffstetler’s lab (Michael Stuhlbarg), which contains an even stranger creature inside (Doug Jones). Soon, Elisa begins to feel a peculiar kind of addiction to the monster. However, the days of its existence are numbered and there is someone to make sure it happens – a demonic, former army man Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon).
Del Toro’s affection for incredibly designed arrays of monsters has been widely praised over the years. Although it’s been a while since “Pan’s Labirynth” has hit the screens worldwide, there’s still a sense of magic oozing from this prominent piece of art. Even when he turned to different kinds of cinematic areas – as stranded from art as “Pacific Rim” – he still kept that odd love for the imaginary puppets.
The Mexican director possesses the rare gift of breathing life into those magical realms, allowing all kinds of odd figments of his imagination to resonate with powerful messages. It is what gave his Oscar-winning tale such a heart-piercing character and also what makes “The Shape Of Water” a spellbinding spectacle. If there’s one thing that Del Toro is fully capable of, it has to be his incredible gift of fairytale storytelling.
It is no coincidence to begin the conversation about “The Shape Of Water” with the similarities to his previous works. “The Shape Of Water” uses a fragile human being as its core and a fairytale creature to put things in motion around its protagonist. Just like Ophelia from “Pan’s Labirynth” was fascinated with Pan an his story about the princess, Elise is tempted by the fraction of extraordinary life, represented by the captured monster.
The novelty and freshness of “The Shape Of Water” comes from the way Del Toro treats his phantasmagorical creation. Even the characters who bond with the fishy humanoid, call him “it” – the creature remains a nameless, metaphorical being till the end. There is all kinds of feelings placed in this poor monstrosity – from pure hatred of Michael Shannon’s martinet to Sally Hawkins’ heart-breaking, desperate calling for affection. Yet, either of them uses the amphibious creature to their own liking, but – deep in the heart – none of them understands it and frankly – none of them tries to do so. It always remains an object of very extreme approaches, a beacon for the characters in the film, but never a character on its own.
On such peculiar grounds, Del Toro offers an unconventional turn of events. Instead of immersing in the fairytale with a brutal twist, he plays the subtle melody of romance. A risky move like this would have never worked out if not for Sally Hawkins’ marvelous, joyful and enchanting performance. The British actress manages to capture all of the irrational shreds of Elise; her dreamy attitude, the way she adapts to the boredom-filled life. Hawkins’ towering performance is the only reason why the audience might buy the somehow kitschy storyline, where a mute woman allocates her feelings in a creature from a swamp.
“The Shape Of Water” doesn’t end on the romance note though. Del Toro reaches to many genres, draws inspirations from other cinematic achievements and blends it all together. The first half resonates with “Amelie”, but the genuinely charming atmosphere is shattered to pieces with every appearance of Michael Shannon. As usual, the American actor delivers a fine performance, as a maniac ex-soldier. Balance between those two is kept by Michael Stuhlbarg and Richard Jenkins – one that fits in the shoes of a conflicted scientist and latter as the captivating friend of Elise.
Apart from its meaningful direction and breathtaking performances, “The Shape Of Water” is a breathtaking piece of art on the audiovisual level. With the very first scene, I already felt tucked in by the delicacy of the soundtrack by Alexandre Desplat. The music is sensitive, perfectly fitted for the setting and times that the film depicts. Finally, kudos should also go to the cinematography department that struck gold with the “You’ll Never Know” scene.
“The Shape Of Water” is a striking vision that blends a genuinely naive fairytale with Hollywood’s brutal flashiness. The outcome is a fair heir to “Pan’s Labyrinth” that captures the eeriness of Del Toro’s childish vision and a great deal of technical craftsmanship. It can make you laugh, shed a tear and warm the coldest hearts. Among too many opaque films and superhero recycled stuff, we should be happy to have that weirdo as a director these days, for he delivered one of the best years of the last year.
The Shape Of water (2017)
Dir. Guillermo Del Toro
Cast: Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Michael Stuhlbarg, Richard Jenkins
Hate Grade: 1/10
P.S. And one last thing – those, who share videos of sweet kitties on the Internet – beware. You might have to sacrifice your love in order to fall in it with Del Toro’s imagination.