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The Shape of Water – Movie Review

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The Shape of Water – Movie Review

Rating: A- (Great)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Fox Searchlight Pictures

After many years of filmmaking, it’s clear that Guillermo del Toro feels a certain connection to unusual creatures and he wants us to love them, too. That’s where a lot of the heart in his work comes from and The Shape of Water’s romance infused plot gives it a further aura of beauty. This entire film becomes about the outcasts in an era where everyone was suspicious and untrusting of those different from them. The themes are fairly obvious in The Shape of Water, but del Toro tells this story so lovingly, it’s easy to get sucked in. While one wishes there was more bonding shown between Sally Hawkins’s mute janitor and Doug Jones’s fish man, this is nonetheless an impressively crafted production.

Del Toro uses visual language to an impressive degree in The Shape of Water, quickly establishing the Cult War setting and a facility that would be right at home in a Fritz Lang film. A lot of credit also deserves to go to Sally Hawkins, who has to convey plenty with no words. Elisa is immediately sympathetic, but she’s also a character who can fend for herself in the tricky world she has to navigate. Hawkins brings the proper emotion and her chemistry with Jones is sublime. Jones is an actor who has become comfortable when acting under layers of prosthetics and he captures both the monstrous and oddly sweet side of this creature from the black lagoon. The best scenes in The Shape of Water are when Elisa and the Amphibian Man are together. Who would have predicted this would be one of the sweetest romances of the year?

The ragtag team of Hawkins, Octavia Spencer as her closest co-worker and Richard Jenkins as her homosexual neighbour is one the audience does root for. Guillermo del Toro is obviously saying how outcasts in a society that rejects them tend to band together and support each other, but it’s sweet and relevant. As the central villain, Michael Shannon chews the scenery as he’s one of those actors who can make a lullaby sound threatening. However, del Toro explores him just enough. He’s never made into a sentimental figure as he instead focuses on the growing anger inside of him. Less successfully handled is a subplot involving Soviet agents. It takes away screen time from the central romance and mostly appears to augment the Cold War period.

The creativity on display in every scene is unsurprisingly spectacular. Next to Tim Burton, del Toro is one of those filmmakers incapable of making a film that’s not visually impressive and filled to the brim with incredible production values. Dan Laustsen’s cinematography and Paul D. Austerberry’s sets manage the impressive task of making each location feel distinct and pivotal to the story being told. While the laboratory is cold with grungy muck seeping out of the corners, Elisa’s apartment is warm and inventing. They make particularly great use of Toronto’s Elgin Theatre and the grand movie palace appearance it has retained for so long. Alexandre Desplat’s score also brings us into the world with beautiful compositions that make us fall for these two lovebirds (or “lovefish” might be more appropriate) even more.

With The Shape of Water, Guillermo del Toro has crafted a lovely little reverse Little Mermaid. It serves as an ode to unconventional romances and gives other voices a chance to be the hero in a movie. Del Toro clearly loves these characters and seeks to make them personalities worthy of our own admiration. Films like this are what make nihilistic pictures that merely exist to spit on their protagonists seem even more pointless and unnecessary. With every frame, the audience is transported to another world and grow to care for this fish creature and those who aid him in this love story. Whether underwater or on land, there is a ton to appreciate in The Shape of Water.


Stefan Ellison

Stefan Ellison