The Shape of Water Written by Guillermo Del Toro & Vanessa Taylor
Directed by Guillermo Del Toro
Starring Sally Hawkins, Doug Jones, Michael Shannon, Octavia Spencer, Michael Stuhlbarg, Richard Jenkins Fox Searchlight
Rated R | 123 Minutes
Release Date: December 15, 2017
You know pretty much when walking into a Guillermo del Toro movie that you’re in for a visual masterclass in filmmaking. Even the films of his I didn’t love (Hellboy 1 & 2, Crimson Peak) were beautiful to watch. But the films where he matches the visuals and production design with tour de force acting and writing become classics. Pan’s Labyrinth is one of most incredible films I have ever watched and The Shape of Water echoed it, exchanging the Spanish Civil War for The Cold War, and switching the lead protagonist from a young girl to an adult woman. It is beautiful, not just in imagery, but in characters. Like Pan’s, there’s a psychotic and powerful antagonist and an epic performance by the “Master of Disguise,” Doug Jones, this time as the “Amphibian Man.”
Del Toro obviously also pays homage to Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) crafting this as a poetic romance version of the original monster film. Let’s talk performances. By my calculations there are 4 (likely 3) Oscar nominees here. Sally Hawkins as Elisa is just a revelation. She always is, but hopefully people will start noticing now. Her performance is brave like few others I’ve witnessed this year, and only Carla Gugino’s harrowing turn in Gerald’s Game comes to mind. Hawkins is a mute cleaner at a government facility that is housing Jones’s creature. Despite not speaking, Hawkins is amazing here. She crafts special and intimate relationships with everyone she comes in contact with, including co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer) and neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins). Jenkins is as good a character actor in the business right now, and his dynamic with Hawkins is magic. He should be a shoo-in for a best supporting actor nom.
Speaking of Best Supporting Actor nominations, Michael Shannon is Strickland, the man at the lab responsible for the creature. Shannon manages to outdo himself in the “crazy psycho” department each and every time out. He tortures the creature with a cattle prod, and as is usual for Shannon characters, has a bizarre way of handling relationships with women. There’s a running gag with his fingers… my god in heaven.
Doug Jones, along with Andy Serkis, has crafted a niche that needs to be recognized. They are experts at what they do. Jones, through all the prosthetics and makeup, somehow emotes “Amphibian Man” as a legitimate leading man.
I can’t go into plot details without spoiling it, but everything hits home. The supporting characters are each given interesting subplots, some smaller than others, but they are insightful asides that better develop their characters while infusing a stronger sense of setting for the film. And as far as moments go, there are so many OMG moments and scenes that they need to be seen to be believed. One particular scene, Del Toro drains the color and the next few minutes of black and white may be my favorite overall scene this year.
Guillermo Del Toro has spent his career telling dark fantasies that meticulously blend with the real world. His 2001 horror drama, The Devil’s Backbone, was a ghost story told amongst the Spanish Civil War. Pan’s Labyrinth was a fairy tale set during the same period. Here he takes the paranoia of Cold War era America, and uses that to create 2017’s most original and heartwarming love story with characters and performances that are worthy of unending praise. I guarantee you, you will see things you never ever saw before. Brace the cold, see The Shape of Water immediately.
I give this a 5/5. It may be the Best Film of 2017.
THE SHAPE OF WATER | Official Trailer | FOX Searchlight