The latest movie directed by the critically acclaimed Guillermo Del Toro (Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth) weaves a deeply intricate fairy tale into a very unusual love story.
The Shape of Water follows the story of Elisa (Sally Hawkins), a cleaner in a high-security government facility in Baltimore during the Cold War. The portrayal by Hawkins is gripping from the very beginning; despite the fact that Elisa is mute, she shows power through actions and expressions. The fact Elisa can’t speak isn’t something that impedes her and her own uniqueness shines through in a myriad of ways.
Early on in the movie, an amphibian creature that was hailed as a God is captured from South America and brought to the facility by Colonel Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon). General Frank Hoyt (Nick Searcy) instructs Strickland to vivisect the creature so they can use it as leverage to get ahead of Russia in the space race, an opportunity for Strickland to indulge his sadistic side.
While on paper The Shape of Water is a love story, it is so much more than that. The turmoil that Elisa goes through to save something she loves is genuinely touching. The issues dealt with throughout emphasise the need for acceptance and the power of love, be it platonic or romantic.
It is a monster movie but rather than the monster being something that is feared, we see a monster portrayed as something that can be loved. The fantastic cinematography and effects bring the amphibian being to life and capture the power and grace of something otherworldly.
The nods to Hollywood classics like Creature From The Black Lagoon are rife throughout, and Del Toro incorporates these homages into the movie’s world seamlessly.
Elisa’s neighbor and close friend, Giles (Richard Jenkins) is a struggling artist who also happens to be homosexual. Giles is self-conscious and very aware of how out of place he is in 1960’s America but despite this, Elisa views him no differently than anybody else. The acceptance of others for who they are rather than what they are not is a message that is carried through the entire movie and is something that the world needed in the 60’s as much as it needs now.
The lack of a voice for Elisa sees bonds form with those who have little voice in society, like the aforementioned Giles and fellow cleaner, the loquacious Zelda (Octavia Spencer) who is African-American. Her bond with the creature is easier to understand and the sincerity of her actions cannot be understated.
There are some scenes that are a little bit strange and worthy of a sceptically raised eyebrow (looking at you, weird sex scene) but as a whole, The Shape of Water is a worthy Oscar contender and one that will surely see Del Toro finally scoop a Best Director award.
Humans being shown as indelible monsters is a recurrent theme throughout The Shape of Water, as Del Toro makes you hope for a romance between a mute and an amphibian to thrive and a revered military man to fail.