Director: Guillermo Del Toro
Cast: Sally Hawkins, Doug Jones, Octavia spencer, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, MIchael Stuhlbarg
Genre: Adenture, Drama, Fantasy, Romance, Thriller
Release Date: January 18th 2018
Guillermo Del Toro has inevitably been a unique director. He has made a career of writing/directing stories about the unconventional characters across many genres e.g. Gothic romance, animation, fantasy, sci-fi. This makes his newest project both astonishing yet unsurprisingly, a film about the relationship between an amphibious creature and a mute cleaner set in the early 1960s. If unpredictability had a face, its face would be the teddy bear like joyous face of Del Toro’s.
Elisa Esposito (SALLY HAWKINS) mute since birth works as a cleaner at a government laboratory, her days spent working alongside chatty co-worker Zelda (OCTAVIA SPENCER) and spending time with neighbour Giles (RICHARD JENKINS). Each day playing out the same until one day, shady security agent Richard Strickland (MICHAEL SHANNON) brings in a mysterious “asset” (DOUG JONES) captured in South America. Elisa’s curiosity soon gets the better of her and she soon discovers the “asset” is a godlike amphibious creature imprisoned and tortured by Strickland all in the name of the US government and its obsession with the space race. As her relationship with the creature grows, she hatches a plan to free him from the slowly unravelling Strickland.
At the core of the story, The Shape of Water is a story of love and understanding. Both Elisa and the creature connect with each other through their shared experience of being looked down upon. The narrative comes across as an organic evolution into love than a starry-eyed checklist typical of most romance film. The other people in Elisa’s life are also outsiders in their own respects; Giles Elisa’s neighbour is a closeted gay man who like Elisa struggles to find love and acceptance in his own life outside of his platonic love for Elisa. Zelda her co-worker strains in her own marriage for equality. While the minor arcs (in particular Zelda and Giles) do not have a rosy-tinted ending but at least have clarity of self-worth.
With the communication between Elisa and the creature being predominately non-verbal, it takes an extraordinary kind of actress to keep your attention on her. Sally Hawkins is compelling from the beginning and seeing her arc from timid dreamer to ballsy heroine demonstrates how she’s been earning all the awards nominations. The way Hawkins conveys her emotions without uttering a word, never leaves you with any doubt about how her character is thinking or feeling in the moment. The surrounding cast put in a solid effort as well, no one overshadowing each other. Even Michael Shannon, who has made the career portraying somewhat intense characters, does not diminish Hawkins’ presence when they are playing scenes across one another. His intensity is the immovable object against Hawkins calm unstoppable force.
A beautiful fantastical film like The Shape of Water requires a unique score. Alexander Desplat (winner of best original score Oscar for the Grand Budapest Hotel) composes a score that has a romantic whimsy feel that even the title score sounds like water. The main title score envisions the ebb and flow of water, transporting you into Elisa’s world just as the opening scene navigates through her apartment under water. Elisa’s own theme captures her own hopeful demeanour perfectly. The only lyrical song You’ll never know’ (as seen by Elisa on the TV in the film) comes at a pivotal point in Elisa’s arc as she realises her feelings for the creature comes crashing over her.
Only Del Toro can create a film about the bond between an aquatic creature, and a female mute be delightful and poignant. A film about the lesson of acceptance that love can bring, a love that in all forms should flow freely like water surrounding everything and everyone without prejudice.
4 ½ stars