Critic - No.152
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Casts: Sally Hawkins, Richard Jenkins, Octavia Spencer, Michael Shannon, Doug Jones
Language: English
Genre: Adventure / Drama / Fantasy

At a top secret research facility in the 1960s, a lonely janitor Elisa (Sally Hawkins) forms a unique relationship with an amphibious creature (Doug Jones) that is being held in captivity. 

After ‘Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008)’, Guillermo del Toro had a brief hiatus of 5 years before he delivered ‘Pacific Rim (2013)’ and ‘Crimson Peak (2015)’. Neither of these follow ups felt justice to the amount of potential and unforgettable films he has given in his early career. However, ‘The Shape of Water’ leaves us with a feeling that this beloved visual master is back to form. The film feels perfect in terms of its balance between content and its presentation. In most of his films, the elaborate settings and costumes might look seemingly overpowering but here it somehow gels the best after his most acclaimed film, ‘Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)’.

Starting with a surreal fairy-tale intentions and character introductions with Richard Jenkins voiceover narrating through the shabby contents of a flooded apartment that floats beneath the blue ocean, Del Toro sets the mood for a dreamy proceeding. He then transits into the reality of Elisa, mute orphan (or the “princess without a voice” as described in the opening narration) who cleans in a top secret government laboratory and rapidly gets into the sharp character building and catalyst.

The main plot starts off when she gets to know that a creature has been captured and is being tested with nasty experiment that will allegedly give the U.S. an advantage over the Russians in the Cold War. We can somehow predict the entire key plot points quite easily with our muscle memories of classics such as King Kong and Beauty and the Beast. Also, the film doesn’t divert too much from our expectations but what makes it engaging is the treatment of the characters and enchanting aesthetics. 

The film is embedded with literal and figurative messages of homophobia, racism, intimidation and self-righteous intolerance. Each of the characters strongly evoke the necessary provoking thoughts designed by Del Toro and Hawkins stands out with gemlike beauty with her expressive power and sensuality. She feeds the creature (played by Doug Jones) with eggs, plays him Benny Goodman records and teaches him sign language, all out of rapt devotion. The result is an performance chemistry by Hawkins and Jones that will haunt your dreams and break your heart. 

The film has a few stock characters that might look exaggerated than it should be like the menacing, aggressively loud Richard Strickland played by Michael Shannon who reminds us of Classical Hollywod villains. However he is one character that accelerates the poetic love story into a tragic fantasy, spouting the rhetoric of a government that is more interested in killing what they don’t recognize than exploring unknown quantities. Richard Jenkins and Octavia Spencer’s strong portrayal as the alliance of Hawkins is commendable. Especially Jenkins’ occasional comic reliefs in the most tensed moments paints the journey with vigour.  

Del Toro has always been a strong visual stylist who puts intense colours and elaborate settings and costumes on the screen. He has done it again quite comfortably to eye-popping degrees with his technical team with the special mentions of the cinematographer Dan Lausten and Production Designer Paul D. Austerberry. Their work at a crucial underwater scene in the second act is simply dazzling. On top of all that, Alexandre Desplat’s magical score clutches and drives the narration tightly that will linger in your ears and your hearts even after you leave the hall. 

‘The Shape of Water’ is a romantic fantasy that is filled with layers of exploration on politics, sociology and even sexuality. Del Toro tries to balance his poetic vision and his cinematic liberties to widen his content’s accessibility. Undoubtedly film is a significant cinematic achievement for Del Toro that places him back into the league of ground-breaking directors in contemporary cinema.

Backed up by a remarkably strong cast ensemble and technical team, Guillermo del Toro crafts an emotional fantastical allegory that occasionally plunges into the conventional narrative mode.



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