The Shape of Water, 2017.
Directed by Guillermo del Toro.
Starring Sally Hawkins, Doug Jones, Richard Jenkins, Michael Shannon, Michael Stuhlbarg, and Octavia Spencer.
An other-worldly fairy tale, set against the backdrop of Cold War era America circa 1962. In the hidden high-security government laboratory where she works, lonely Eliza (Sally Hawkins) is trapped in a life of isolation. Eliza’s life is changed forever when she and co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer) discover a secret classified experiment.
Guillermo del Toro makes a great return to fantasy genre with The Shape of Water, an unconventional romance that is beautifully shot and written with a great lead performance from Sally Hawkins. Del Toro’s fans should be happy with his latest outing.
Sally Hawkins’ portrayal of Eliza is one of the film’s strongest points. Eliza is mute so everything about Hawkins’ performance is conveyed through her facial expressions and body language. She’s an easy character to connect and sympathize with as Hawkins draws you in, helped by del Toro’s use of close-up shots to emphasize the silent performance.
Doug Jones is also impressive here, playing yet another one of del Toro’s otherworldly creatures in the film’s other silent performance. At least, silent in that he doesn’t speak English, with Jones using a variety of vocal sounds to show what he is feeling. Jones’ reliance on his own body language also helps to convey the character’s thoughts and feelings, putting in a lot of nuance in just the simplest of movements. It also helps that the design of the creature is amazing; the make-up done on Jones looks incredible, from the way he moves, breathes and snarls. Very few moments in the film make you think it is anything but Jones in the film’s costume.
The rest of the cast round out the film well, with Octavia Spencer, Richard Jenkins and Michael Stuhlbarg giving good performances, particularly Jenkins and Stuhlbarg. Michael Shannon, however, nearly steals the show as the government antagonist, Strickland. He’s not strictly evil, but has a cold and dispassionate personality that makes him unlikeable enough. Shannon still delivers some nuance to show that he’s got his own motivations than just enjoying being bad and del Toro spends some time with Strickland at home with his family, showing a somewhat different persona that shows the multiple layers to Strickland.
The cinematography looks gorgeous throughout the film. The colours are a little dark, but many of the shots look great, especially when del Toro plays around with the lighting. It is definitely one of del Toro’s best looking films to date thanks the visuals. It also has a fairly nice score that is influenced by old Hollywood musicals and romances. The one gripe I do have about Shape of Water is that it’s a bit slow in some scenes, but the film moves along at a good pace for the most part otherwise.
Despite the monster/romance premise, much of The Shape of Water is about all the characters, even Strickland, being stuck in the past and searching for new ways forward in their lives. It’s a touching film with an interesting story and great cast, with Hawkins standing out the most thanks to her silent performance. del Toro directs a solid fantasy that mixes old Hollywood elements with the fantasy genre in his latest film that audiences should enjoy.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★