Guillermo del Toro’s latest film, The Shape of Water stands as a difficult film to classify. Is it horror? Could it be it a romance? Is it a follow-up to The Creature from the Black Lagoon? The film jumped into the awards season race relatively late in the game. However, it is evolving into a formidable foe for the other films currently dominating awards buzz. The beautifully constructed movie builds an interesting a complicated story, while making a statement about outcasts as well as finding and embracing your true self.
The Shape of Water follows the story of Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins), a young cleaning woman in 1962 Baltimore. An average day at work quickly becomes less so when a new shipment arrives at the mysterious (government?) facility where she works. Having largely unfettered access to the laboratories, the mute Elisa quickly sees and begins to develop a relationship with a strange, humanoid sea creature. Love soon blooms, and she helps him stage an escape. However, “G-man” Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon) still stands between Elisa and her dreams of romance…
The film comes from visionary director Guillermo del Toro. Del Toro penned the script, with Divergent writer Vanessa Taylor also receiving writing credit on the screenplay.
The Shape of Water follows in a long line of visually stunning Del Toro movies. Crimson Peak, Pan’s Labarynth and even Pacific Rim show the director as a fully fledged auteur with a striking eye for visual flair. The Shape of Water is rich and vivid in its depiction of Baltimore in the early 1960s. In fact, with its Technicolor and “Vista-Vison” like color pallet, it feels like a love letter to classic Hollywood. The movie is fantastical and escapist, and very, very entrancing.
To further expand on The Shape of Water as a love letter to old Hollywood, del Toro packs the film with clips and references from the post WWII period. In incorporating these moments, it gives the film a timeless feeling. There are plenty of smile inducing moments, from Shirley Temple dancing to a full on Fred and Ginger like music number between Elisa and the creature. Fans of classic Hollywood and musicals will fall in love with everything about this film, from the look, the references, to the hopeful romanticism.
The characters in the story carry a huge weight in the telling of the unique and interesting story. Del Toro brings together a diverse group of performers to bring the fascinating group to life.
Disability representation is an important topic, and one which often proves difficult for Hollywood cinema. However, in the capable hands of Hawkins and Del Toro, Elisa comes to life as a fully fleshed out and interesting leading lady. She’s firey, independent and is allowed to be a fully realised, sexual woman. Audiences are fully introduced to her sexual nature early in the film as Elisa is seen masturbating in the bathtub. The scene is an interesting one, as this subject matter (particularly female masturbation) is so often taboo on screens. However, this scene is an important one for Elisa. It becomes immediately clear that despite everything, she’s an average single woman. She’s lonely and is seeking companionship. Her identity and her vision of herself is more than the mute cleaning woman everyone else sees.
Hawkins shines in the role, bringing a vitality and sense of spirit to the part. In a particularly comedic moment, she refuses to back down from a heated conversation with Mr. Strickland. Knowing full well that the man doesn’t know sign language, she signs exactly what he can do (F-U- *-* himself). She smiles openly, knowing that he has no idea what she’s saying. With Michael Shannon playing a typical “Michael Shannon-esque” role, the moment hits very well, letting the more likeable Elisa revel in Stickland’s ignorance.
Backing up Hawkins, del Toro brings together an equally fun and interesting cast. Richard Jenkins and Octavia Spencer absolutely shine in their respective roles. Jenkins is particularly entertaining as Giles, Elisa’s next door neighbour. In his character, the film examines another often overshadowed group. The narrative doesn’t shy away from Giles’ homosexuality. Early in the movie, Elisa accompanies Giles to a diner so he can scope out a crush.
His character is a particularly developed one, as we watch him struggling with insecurities. Not only is the man struggling with his identity as a gay man in the early 1960s, but he’s also quickly approaching the wrong-side of middle age. Jenkins brings a genuine likability to the character as he struggles with not only his personal life, but his career as well. As an artist in advertising, the man can only watch as his industry changes around him. As a result, he finds himself pigeon holed as a dinosaur, unable to keep pace as the world evolves. Jenkins should definitely be a contender in a wide-open Best Supporting Actor category this year.
The Shape of Water is definitely hard-hitting in places. However, those familiar with Del Toro’s work should find this as no surprise. This film is a fascinating and unique blend of genres, which is very interesting to watch. However, what truly sells this film is its heart. The cast of characters making up this story is so genuinely interesting and likable that it is a pleasure to watch.
The Shape of Water is playing around the country today.