The filmography of visionary director Guillermo del Toro is a fascinating one, to say the least. From the Hellboy series to the cult classic Pan’s Labyrinth, no matter how you feel about him as a director, there’s no denying the man’s artistic integrity. Some may say that del Toro is more style over substance, and to a point, I completely agree in some aspects. Take 2014s Crimson Peak, for example, a decent gothic- romance with a fine cast, but it’s definitely more atmospheric than story-centric.
Ten features later, Guillermo del Toro has given the world his magnum opus with The Shape of Water. Already being helmed as an awards front-runner, this sci-fi romance is unconventional as ever, while still having the most humanity out of all of his work.
The Shape of Water is set in the Cold War era America circa 1962, in a secret government laboratory run by the no-nonsense, pill-popping Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon). In the facility, a creature that is half fish, half human, (think Creature of The Black Lagoon, only cuter) is being experimented on and tortured by Strickland and a bevy of other scientists. Sally Hawkins stars as Elsa, a mute janitor at the research facility, who is plagued by ongoing loneliness, minus her best friends Zelda (Octavia Spencer) and Giles (a wonderful Richard Jenkins). When Elsa first comes into contact with the creature, the attraction is instantaneous and purely emotional. This doesn’t sit well with those close to her, but Elsa won’t let that stand in the way of true love.
Let’s get this out of the way, I was utterly blown away by The Shape of Water. From the onslaught of terrific performances to the brilliantly realized emotional core, this is without question Guilmero del Toro’s finest film to date. Sally Hawkins is mesmerizing as the mute Elsa, never once showboating for the sake of playing someone with a disability. Never once did I see the actress in question, that’s just how transformative and natural Hawkins is in the role, and most certainly deserves an Oscar nomination for her sublime work here.
As I previously stated, Richard Jenkins is wonderful as her gay best friend, who is equally as lonely, Giles. While Jenkins does provide a significant amount of comic relief to the story, his own arc is subtly effective in terms of the emotional overarching theme of the narrative. Of course, Michael Shannon being one of the best character actors working today is just magnetic. Though he is typecasted in The Shape of Water, making his character motivations clear from the start, it’s never a displeasure watching this man on screen.
As the Amazonian monster, Doug Jones, who is a frequent collaborator of del Toro’s, ads some unique empathy to what could’ve very well been a cliched character. The romance between him and Elsa is honest, real, and surprisingly charming. It takes a special type of performer to achieve what Jones continues to do throughout his career, and his turn as the misunderstood monster is one for the ages.
The film looks spectacular, with del Toro having a blast adding numerous shades of green to 98% of the shots during this 2-hour run-time. Scenes ooze with atmospheric charm, setting the tone of this modern day shot 50s fable, paying homage to films of the past without becoming a parody.
I will say that The Shape of Water does end on a rather conventional note, becoming increasingly predictable during its closing moments. This is but a minor nit-pick in an overall flawless production. Dare I say, but this very well could be in my top 3 films of 2017. As I sit here writing this, all I can think about is how badly I watch long to re-watch this film.