Director: Guillermo Del Toro
Starring: Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins
Review Author: Tony
Better late than never is certainly a suitable phrase that relates to the tardiness of this review. It’s been over a month since I saw this incredible film but it’s been at the back of my mind ever since and I knew it would be a sin to not give my thoughts on it. I’ve never been quiet about my admiration for Del Toro, his films are so inspired and his creativity is boundless. Even his campier films like Pacific Rim are elevated in quality due to infectious imagination and craftsmanship. As a hardcore fan, I’ve mourned countless of his projects which never got the green light or were shelved (especially At the Mountain of Madness) due to studios viewing his projects as too risky. Well, Del Toro is having the last laugh with three Oscar’s to his name and his stock shooting through the roof after The Shape of Water took home the Academy Awards for Best Picture and Best Director.
Set in the early 1960s, during the height of Cold War paranoia. In a top secret government facility, scientists are studying an amphibious creature captured in South America. The creatures captor, a fearsome government agent called Strickland, oversees and conducts cruel experiments on the creature in order to discover it’s secrets to gain an advantage over the Russians. In the midst of all this is a lonely mute called Elisa who works as a cleaner at the facility. Although she has a close relationship with her neighbour and work colleague, Elisa feels isolated. When Elisa comes in contact with the creature she does not see a monster but a fellow outsider and slowly she forms a close bond with the creature while avoiding the ever watching Strickland.
Sally Hawkins gives an extraordinarily expressive performance as the mute, Elisa. For a role that requires no dialogue, Hawkins is an ace at conveying everything she needs to say through facial expressions and body language (with a minimal assistance of subtitled sign language). It’s extraordinary to see her hold heated and passionate conversations without uttering a word and yet you understand all of it. Hawkins plays Elisa with a childlike innocence and curiosity as she floats through every day taking in the sights and sounds but behind this naive demeanor is loneliness and the urge to connect with a fellow outsider.
While Sally Hawkins is certainly the heart of the movie, the supporting cast is just as deserving of praise. Richards Jenkins is finally getting the recognition he deserves as he nabbed an Academy Award nomination for his role as Elisa’s tender but eccentric neighbour. Jenkins brings such warmth and tragedy to the role of a homosexual man born in an oppressive time in the later years of his life and full of regret. Octavia Spencer is a gem as Elisa’s work colleague and translator, Zelda. Zelda provides the majority of the humour as she tears her clueless husband to shreds and rants about oxygen deficient small people. Of course, no Del Toro film is complete without it’s monster and who better than to play the film’s monter than Michael Shannon. Shannon’s character, Strickland, has no scales or claws but rather a crisp suit, a cattle prod, and a mean look. Shannon brings all the intensity and menace one may expect from him but Del Toro makes sure to give the character plenty of layers to prevent him from becoming too one-note.
The production design for the film was also awarded an Oscar, and while I have my reservation about the Academy Awards, they got it right this year (I’m secretly lying as I know in my heart I wanted Blade Runner 2049 to take it). The detail in every shot is mind-boggling and it’s easy to get distracted from the characters and plot just trying to process the beauty of each set. Del Toro brings his A game when it comes to the visuals as he infuses a subterranean blue/green lighting which is appropriate to the film’s aquatic tone. And as for the music, another Oscar-winning element of the film, it’s truly whimsical and cements the fairytale ambiance of the movie.
The Shape of Water is filmmaking at its finest as it has its toes dipped in old-fashioned filmmaking while utilizing all the technical benefits of modern filmmaking. It’s astonishing how many unique elements Del Toro nails from the Cold War setting, to the creature effects, to a voiceless protagonist. Del Toro is a man bursting with imagination and has a fine visual eye to bring it all to life and to top it all of he’s a gifted storyteller. The success of the Shape of Water is a truly exciting event as this man can focus on any project he wants now.
Rating: 4.75 / 5 Tumblers of Whiskey