Release Date: December 1, 2017 (Limited)
Director: Guillermo del Toro
MPAA Rating: R
Runtime: 123 Minutes
After tackling the big-budget blockbuster with Pacific Rim and moody, gothic horror genre with Crimson Peak, visionary director Guillermo del Toro returns to fantasy with the dark fairy tale The Shape of Water.
Now, the term “visionary” is one of those often overused descriptors that gets thrown around a lot, a term that I’m not entirely sure I have ever used it before, yet I can’t think of more appropriate nomenclature for this director.
Set in Baltimore in the early days of The Cold War, del Toro presents an unconventional love story involving a lovable mute, played by Sally Hawkins, and a humanoid sea creature, played by Doug Jones. As you might expect, this courtship is not all flowers and chocolates, or, as in this case, hardboiled eggs. Both the U.S. government and the Russians are looking to use the creature to further their respective efforts in the space race.
Michael Shannon plays the antagonist in typical Michael Shannon fashion, playing out the typical ’60s male misogynist perfectly, with just enough humanity to find him believable and just enough evil to quickly make one exclaim, “I know who the real monster is here!”
Hawkins shines as Elisa, bringing heaps of range to the table without uttering a word. She is perfect for the role, and at times it seems like she’s daring the audience not to fall in love with her. Left a mute orphan after her father mutilated her and left her for dead, she radiates an innocent joy, affecting all those around her, be them human or not.
With a strong supporting cast, including Richard Jenkins as a struggling, lonely, Norman Rockwell-like artist; Octavia Spencer as Elisa’s sassy co-worker and loyal friend; and Michael Stuhlbarg as a KGB operative with a heart of gold, del Toro crafts a surprising amount of depth for each individual, giving us tiny glimpses into the turmoil in their lives.
The Shape of Water is an undeniably gorgeous film, bathed in a radiant, emerald glow and fully embracing its early ’60s backdrop that allows it to take on an old-Hollywood aesthetic. Bringing back Dan Laustsen as the DP from Crimson Peak, the exquisite framing and camerawork compliment the outstanding production design.
Water is the name of the game in this movie, and it’s literally everywhere, punctuating each and every scene in all its life-sustaining glory. This is easily one of the most visually arresting films of the year, and it deserves every accolade that it will surely receive.
But where the film falls short is in the actual love story aspect of the narrative. I knew what I was supposed to be feeling as Elisa expressed her love for the creature, but I found myself feeling indifferent. The emotional resonance just wasn’t there.
That doesn’t make this film any less of a beautiful experience. It’s one that’s certainly worth your time and that’s deserving of the various awards it will most assuredly be nominated for this year.