Guillermo del Toro is no stranger to creatures or monsters, call them what you will. With credits including: Mimic, Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth and more, you could argue he’s the master.
With The Shape Of Water however, del Toro is attempting something not seen often, if ever, and certainly not with the level of care, love and attention he and co-writer Vanessa Taylor (Divergent, Game Of Thrones (TV)), have provided.
The Shape Of Water sees Sally Hawkins (Paddington 2, Godzilla) in mesmerising form as the mute Elisa Esposito, Esposito being a common surname in Italy and was often given to orphans, a cleaner at a mysterious facility somewhere in 1960’s America.
Zelda, Octavia Spencer (Bad Santa 2, Zootropolis), works alongside Elisa acting as her voice when times arise. Zelda is a hard-working woman with a stubborn husband who is often sick, but she takes time to keep an eye out for her friend.
One day an air of excitement welcomes the women to the facility and they’re told by security manager Fleming, David Hewlett (Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes, Murdoch Mysteries (TV)), that a very special guess will be joining them.
As a mysterious water tank is wheeled in, closely followed by new chief of security Richard Strickland, Michael Shannon (Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice, Midnight Special), Elisa takes an immediate interest in the contents.
Inside the tank is the Amphibian Man, played by long-time del Toro stalwart Doug Jones who was also Abe Sapien in Hellboy and Fauno in Pan’s Labyrinth, amongst others. We hear snippets as to why he’s here and where he’s from. The Russians are mentioned, as is sending men into space.
It quickly becomes clear that all Strickland and his bosses are interested in is cutting open this Amphibian Man to see what’s inside. A Dr. Robert Hoffstetler, Michael Stuhlbarg (Miss Sloane, Doctor Strange), wants to stop them, believing alive it can help them more, but his loyalties are elsewhere.
This is reinforced when he catches Elisa interacting with the Amphibian Man. She brings him eggs and plays him music and teaches him sign language. A bond quickly forms between the two with Elisa happy that this creature, who also cannot communicate verbally, sees her for who she is and not as someone who cannot speak. When Elisa learns of Stricklands plans, she must form a plan of her own to help the Amphibian Man.
Del Toro, who directs, has filled the movie with snippets of classic musical films, a favourite pastime of Elisa and her dear friend and neighbour Giles, Richard Jenkins (Kong: Skull Island, Bone Tomahawk).
Giles is a man with a past and not much of a future given the era he’s living in. Jenkins fills each and every scene with heart-warming joy and happiness each and every time he appears. He’s a wonderful character who is trying his best to beat his demons.
The performance from Hawkins is so strong and so powerful that it’s hard to believe she only utters a few words throughout the entire movie. She radiates passion and compassion and it spreads throughout the facility only being stopped by Shannon who is his usual, hard-nosed, intense self.
Shannon is a perfect piece of casting, oozing and slithering and then exploding in rage when required. Spencer too, gives an outstanding performance, injecting titbits of comedy here and there.
The film has a certain recognisable feel to it, particularly if you are a game player. There’s more than a passing resemblance to Bioshock, del Toro giving the whole film a green tint, plus the water elements aid this familiarity. Hawkins character occasionally reminded me of the Jean-Pierre Jeunet character Amelie too, though less quirky.
That’s not to say any of those things are bad points, far from it. Whether or not The Shape Of Water borrows elements from anywhere or nowhere, when it’s this good, it really doesn’t matter.
With mesmerising performances, beautiful sets and a stunning score by Alexandre Desplat (Unbroken, The Imitation Game) The Shape Of Water is a wonderful and heart-warming love story with a nod to a bygone era of Hollywood. A must see.
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