The Shape of Water, co-written and directed by Guillermo del Toro, is completely charming, beyond beautiful, and perhaps one of the most unconventionally wonderful love stories to come to the big screen. Del Toro’s love for cinema and his expertise of the craft are in full effect, as he brings a varied assortment of themes and tones to life in a film that had me captivated throughout. I adore his work (Pan’s Labyrinth being a truly special film) and I’m really excited to talk about his new film. So let’s dispense with the intro and make our way into my review of, The Shape of Water.
In a top-secret research facility, set against the backdrop of the Cold War era in America, we follow Elisa Esposito – played by Sally Hawkins – who is a lonely janitor who has been mute since birth. However, things change for Elisa when a strange monster is brought into the facility for research and she quickly begins to form a bond with the creature; a bond that will go onto change both their lives.
What always catches my attention first when watching a film by Guillermo del Toro is the outstanding production design and subsequently how wonderfully he shoots it. The sets, that no matter the size, are full of all sorts of little details – details that tell their own little stories that feed into the larger world; there’s history in those details and it all makes things feel that little bit more real. There are the costumes that fit the tone of the time and also say something about the characters, or props that have an air of authenticity to them.
There’s an infinite amount of detail in a Del Toro film and it is forever a joy to look at. And Del Toro makes it easy to look at, as his delicate, purposeful movements of the camera (which I at times found to be calming and comforting) make sure you can always appreciate and digest what is on-screen, and the lighting of course compliments all of it; giving it that 1960’s American look, crossed with Del Toro’s imagination. And of course, the work by cinematographer, Dan Laustsen played an integral part in bringing Del Toro’s work to life and having it all look invitingly exquisite.
And it’s not just your eyes that are treated to multiple delights. Your ears are soothed by a score that rests in the background, while at other times teased by a soundtrack that makes you want to slowly sway from side to side. Alexandre Desplat’s assortment of musical offerings creates the exact atmosphere that the moment calls for and was something I was always happy to hear.
This was a film that at times I found relaxing and inviting, and at other times alarming and heart breaking. Del Toro’s film dances between tones; at times being violent and distressing, while other times getting a welcomed chuckle from me, and of course it would also warm my heart with people who cared for one another – be it human or… something else. It was a difficult balancing act that I think was successful in never feeling disjointed or jarring.
Speaking of people to care about (or in some cases hate) The Shape of Water is full of fantastically unique and compelling characters. Whether it was the sweet and endearing Giles – played by Richard Jenkins – the fiery and funny Zelda Fuller – played by Octavia Spencer – or the menacing and frightening Richard Strickland – played by Michael Shannon – the film continually boasts a cast of characters who each interest you, and who are given the chance to flourish on their own as characters; feeling like much more than just background characters.
As a sidebar, I once again must offer my praise to Michael Stuhlbarg – who plays Dr. Robert Hoffstetler – as he is an actor who continues to shine, no matter the size of his roll in a film. He was charming and full of warmth in Call Me by Your Name, and he was reliably memorable in The Post – which also means he is in three films that are nominated for ‘Best Picture’. I look forward to the day when he gets inundated with nominations, as I continually love his work (having never seen a bad performance from him) and I think he is deserving of much praise and accolades for his fantastic work, no matter the role. But I’ll bring my little rambling praise to an end and get back to the film itself.
The characters who of course shine brightest in the film are Elisa (Sally Hawkins) and the creature she falls for – played by Doug Jones. Sally Hawkins is remarkable in this film. Truly. Her acting is as pure as it comes, as everything is communicated through expressions and physical movement. I never struggled to understand Elisa’s state of mind; I never felt it difficult to get a read on what she was trying to say in a scene – and while that was in part because her words would be told to us in various ways – it was also because Hawkins would express in such a powerfully clear way. That’s no easy thing for an actor to do or for a director to shoot in a concise, comprehensive way, but it is fully achieved in The Shape of Water.
And then there is her connection… her duality with the creature. Doug Jones also had no easy task; being encased in a monster suit and prosthetics. But with the help of some subtle CGI, I found it really easy to connect and empathise with him. I never thought I would find a connection between a human and an amphibious creature to be beautiful… to be enchanting, but that’s exactly what it was. I cared for them both. I cared for their future, and I loved watching every moment of them together.
In fact, I wish I had gotten more of them in the film, because there were times where I didn’t feel I was. It’s in the films focus on its plot – a focus that I sometimes felt took away from the more attractive parts of the film – that I found my only critique (a minor one at that). The plot held things together and kept them moving; it was never a film that felt like it was meandering. It kept me engaged and I was interested by it, but I wish it had been slightly dialled back, in terms of how much time it got.
You see, there would be moments where it would cut to Elisa and the creature and I would have a moment of realisation where I would think: ‘I want more of this. Let me enjoy this more.’ I would never say it was a critique that harmed my enjoyment of the film, but it was something I felt constantly aware of. I suppose Del Toro had created two people with such a warming connection, that I only wanted more of them and what they shared, and I feel that says a lot about how much I fell for the love story in the film.
What Guillermo del Toro and his team have created here is something special. I at first thought the love story between Elisa and the creature would be something weird or uncomfortable to watch and that I wouldn’t find myself able to form a meaningful connection to them or their story. I was wrong. I found it to be genuinely heart-warming, genuinely moving, and all shot and delivered in such a beautiful way – there was a particular dance number near the end of the film that caused me to fall into a puddle of emotions and appreciation – it was just so perfect.
This film has been lauded by every award show and critic and it fully deserves it. Guillermo del Toro has been working in the film industry for a long time (I believe around 25 years) and he has created some unforgettable worlds and characters, and so it’s fantastic to finally see him and one of his films achieve the praise and recognition it deserves. I would have to see the film again before I know if it’s his best film – especially because of how much I love Pan’s Labyrinth, and how many times I’ve seen it – but this is still high on the list of Guillermo del Toro films for sure.
I wholeheartedly recommend, The Shape of Water. Every aspect of this film it beautifully constructed and an absolute treat to experience. I can’t stress enough how much you should make the time to see this film and experience a love story that is truly different and very Guillermo del Toro-esque in its execution.
I’d absolutely love to know what you thought of the film and my review of it, so please leave any opinions or feedback in the comments section down below. Also, it would be great if you could give both my blog and my Twitter – @GavinsRamblings – a wee follow each. Anyway, I’ll bring my ramblings to a close by thanking you for taking the time to read my review, and hoping that you have a wonderful day!