The Shape Of Water is not an easy film to talk about. Even as I sit here writing this and thinking about the film my mind wants to contradict itself. On one hand I’m happy to admit that director Guillero Del Toro (Pacific Rim, Pan’s Labyrinth) has created a beautiful work of art – in one sense it is a film that transcends genres. But then the other hand there are lazy mistakes in the film that frustrated me to no need when I was walking away from the cinema. Having said that though this is a film that will win awards and deservedly so.
Penned by Del Toro and screenwriter Vanessa Taylor (Game Of Thrones, Divergent) The Shape Of Water is set in the 1950s and centres around a mute cleaner named Elisa (Sally Hawkins – Maudie, Blue Jasmine) who works in a top secret military campus. It is here that she comes face-to-face with a ‘vicious’ amphibious creature whom she quickly befriends despite being under the constant watchful eye of the tenacious and vile head of security Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon – Take Shelter, Nocturnal Animals).
When Elisa learns that Strickland plans on killing the creature in order to conduct an autopsy she decides that she has to free him. She engages the help of her fellow cleaner Zelda (Octavia Spencer – The Help, Hidden Figures) and her closeted, failed artist best friend Giles (Richard Jenkins – The Visitor, Let Me In) to help her pull off the plan. She then finds an unlikely ally in the form of Russian spy Dr. Robert Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg – A Serious Man, Boardwalk Empire) but then is faced with the task of not only having to escape Strickland’s grasps but also to keep the ‘man’ alive.
With The Shape Of Water Del Toro jumps genres with ease. The film is part romance, part thriller and part creature feature all while the filmmaker tries his hardest to make this a homage to the Golden Age of Hollywood. From films screening on Giles’ television, to the backdrop of a cinema downstairs right through to an awkwardly placed dance number in the film, which did actually make the audience laugh in my screening, Del Toro is determined to give his audience a bit of a film education as they watch his modern day masterpiece. About the only thing he doesn’t do is remind us that if you think hard enough you’ve seen the general story at hand here back when you first watched Creature From The Black Lagoon.
There is a distinct beauty to this film but the film does trip itself up with some glaringly frustrating errors. At times it feels like Del Toro is trying to push too much into the film – with the film’s main moral tale being ‘understanding those that are different to us’ the storyline seeing Giles being rejected by The Pie Man feels like overkill while the film also falls into that old Hollywood trap of the hero having ample time to get away from the ‘baddie’ but blowing it by ‘fooling’ around giving Strickland in this case just enough time to catch up to them.
Those things aside though and The Shape Of Water is an engrossing watch. It brings the best out of its leads with Sally Hawkins literally amazing as Elise. In one way the whole film rests on her and she makes the most unbelievable storyline completely believable. Her nemesis Michael Shannon also embraces his role and his vileness seeps throughout the whole film… seriously the man deserves awards for his performance. The film also sees a remarkable performance from Richard Jenkins who reminds audiences that nobody can quite mix comedy and drama the way that he can.
The Shape Of Water is a visually stunning film that brings the best out of its cast. Just like Del Toro’s career itself though, I mean come on this is the man that brought us Pacific Rim, just be prepared for an up and down ride. There are moments that will disappoint but there are also moments that will leave you in awe, so sit back and enjoy a film that deserves to have its name read out on Oscar night.