The Shape of Water review
Imagine a Venn diagram of Creature from the Black Lagoon, Amelie, Free Willy, and a classic cold-war anxiety thriller, where fear of the unknown (of otherness) is prevalent. Somewhere in there is a tiny little union where all of these elements intersect. And it is there in that tiny rarefied space where you will find Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water.
The film explores the life of Elisa (Sally Hawkins) a mute woman in 1960s America. When she’s not boiling eggs for her lunch, or furiously fapping in the bath, she works as a cleaner at a secret government science facility. Here she encounters the creature, an amphibian monster (played by del Toro regular Doug Jones) captured from somewhere deep in the Amazon, and subjected to cruel and violent experimentation. Elisa regularly visits the creature, and these two strange souls, two outsiders, begin to form a close bond.
Their bond however is threatened by the powers that be, specifically Colonel Strickland (Michael Shannon), a dangerous military intelligence officer in charge of the creature project. He wants to cut it to pieces and see what they can learn. See if it yields something they can use against the Soviets. When Elisa learns what Strickland is planning, she plots to help the creature escape.
With the help of her elderly gay neighbour Giles (Richard Jenkins) and African American co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer), this plucky band of misfit societal outsiders set out to free gilly, and stick it to the man.
A stunningly crafted curio, del Toro’s visual artistry has never been more beautifully rendered. Every single frame of The Shape of Water is gorgeous. The detail, the colour, the lighting, every visual element is just stunning. There can be no doubt that this is an aesthetic triumph, and sure to devour the artistic and technical categories come Oscar night. Blending elements of fairy-tale, gothic horror, and surprisingly erotic inter-species sexy-time, it all comingles to create something truly unique and beautiful. Alexandre Desplat’s romantic and lyrical score sets the whole thing off perfectly.
However, I have the same problem with The Shape of Water that I have with del Toro’s previous film Crimson Peak: the central emotional core just doesn’t get my heart beating faster. Is it me? Am I dead inside? As charmed as I was by the film, and especially by Sally Hawkins terrific, soul-baring performance, I just didn’t get the emotional clout or dramatic tension I was expecting, especially after the rave reviews that have been following The Shape of Water the past few months.
Perhaps a second viewing will find its way under my skin. Perhaps not. I’m not trying to be a contrarian about this, I genuinely think this is a piece of beautiful and immersive fantasy cinema, and I think it’s great so many people are connecting with it. I really wanted to love it, but alas, I just admired it. Ah well…