Through The Shape of Water, director Guillermo Del Toro brings to life a romantic and unique love story likened to Beauty and the Beast, with protagonist Elisa starting a beautiful relationship with an underwater creature. This love story has the setting of the Cold War, with the US eager to find a way to beat the Soviets to space by experimenting on a creature that looks like he is out of The Black Lagoon. It also offers an ode to classic Hollywood cinema, adding to the feel of the 60s, transporting the audience into the time period. Guillermo Del Toro expertly blends genres between a fairy tale love story and a horror story, where some moments feel like a classic fairy tale romance, and others go dark and violent.
The story opens with Elisa going through her daily routine before work, waking up, boiling eggs, masturbating in the bath and watching TV with her neighbour Giles. She arrives late to work; lucky for her she is saved by her friend Zelda, who holds her place in the clock in line. Her mundane daily work routine is interrupted when she witnesses the scientists bringing in a new tank, only to discover what is inside is not human. With her curiosity peaked, Elisa sets out to find more about the creature, bringing him hard-boiled eggs for lunch, and then slowly introducing him to music, dance and sign language. When the call of science threatens to end their burgeoning relationship, Elisa sets in motion a plan to free the creature, and herself from their prison.
Elisa’s connection to the creature is an interesting one, given the fact he is not human. They connect through music, food and sign language, which allows Elisa to finally have someone she can truly talk too. Though Zelda and Giles understand sign, Elisa is more of a vessel for them to talk about their lives, she doesn’t have the opportunity to talk back to them. Her connection with The Creature is based through their ability to communicate, which helps to explain their attraction with each other, though it doesn’t help the inter-species relationship seem any less gross when you really think about it.
Learning all of your dialogue would be challenging enough, having to learn your dialogue in sign language would be an even greater challenge. Add in the fact you then have to perform and add emotion to the character and you have an immense task in front of you. Sally Hawkins took on that task and shines as Elisa, giving a layered performance that has definitely earned her nomination for Best Actress. Being able to convey the types of emotions she did without using any words was exceptional, even elevating the dramatic tension in many of the scenes. Supporting Hawkins is an incredible supporting cast of Octavia Spencer as Zelda, Elisa’s work friend who offers both comic relief and words of wisdom. Richard Jenkins as Giles, Elisa’s gay neighbour gives a fantastic performance. Michael Shannon does what he does best as Col. Strickland, the menacing government operative in command of the facility housing the creature. The film also stars Del Toro’s go too actor for prosthetics work in Doug Jones, who does a fantastic job as The Creature.
Guillermo Del Toro’s Cold War romance movie is yet another example of appropriately timed cinema that has come out in 2017/18. He uses The Shape of Water to highlight a time period that many believe the world should retreat too, and he appropriately uses his character to demonstrate the balance of power. Michael Shannon’s Strickland represents white men losing their power to the equality movement. Not that this is a bad thing, the movie highlights how during this time period, if you were not a straight, white, Christian male, then you were lesser in society. Shannon’s character goes to the extremes to maintain his status and power, something being fought against by a woman with a disability, an African American woman and a Gay man, as they rebel against him in an effort to save the creature.
The Shape of Water is beautiful, both in story and in the way it looks, with so many gorgeous shots. Del Toro is the rare kind of artist that can make this style of movie, this clash of genres works well without disengaging the audience. It is definitely a film deserving of all the accolades it has received to date.
For fans of Guillermo Del Toro, The Shape of Water is a must see.
The Shape of Water scores 8.5/10
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