The need to truly understand something unknown is strongest with the lonely, but usually drowns in the shadows of the common man obsessed with superiority. Guillermo Del Toro’s film, The Shape of Water, is a tale about the connection that two outcasts make, and the dangerous obstacles they face to be together. Set in the 60’s, Sally Hawkins plays a mute janitor in a research facility who takes an interest in a mysterious, aquatic creature brought in by the government. Hawkins is joined by Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Octavia Spencer, and Michael Stuhlbarg.
Del Toro’s visual eye produces cinematic magic. Every frame is indeed a painting from his fantastical mind. The aquatic creature’s design is reminiscent of the monster in The Creature from the Black Lagoon, but one that is friendly and a bit whimsical. Del Toro’s choice to stay away from a CGI creature makes it feel more authentic and tangible. The film is a visual treat all around, from the sweeping underwater shots that flood the screen, to the quieter scenes, like the dancing raindrops. Knowing Del Toro, he does fantasy stories set in very real worlds, so there are some fairly gruesome scenes. It’s definitely not all sunshine and rainbows in this tale, as it bleeds as much as it shines.
Guillermo Del Toro, along with Vanessa Taylor, pen a script that is original and touching. It’s a rather simple story that reflects both the bold, heroic nature of mankind, as well as the selfish, ruthless part on the flip side of the coin. Del Toro and Taylor really make a case for “the other” that society creates, made up of people that are outcasts, with the creature being the ultimate one. It pulls inspiration from classic fables like Beauty and the Beast, but it’s very much an original tale. Every character is relatable, and fleshed out, even the villain, which makes the simple plot a little more interesting because we know where everyone is coming from.
Sally Hawkins gives a touching performance as Elisa, the mute, lonely janitor who yearns to be seen completely. Hawkins’ body language and signing come so effortlessly; she expresses her emotions so well without any words. There are a couple of ridiculous things that her character does; however, she makes it seem believable. This is a love story that is a hard sell on paper, but with Hawkins, Elisa is brought to life on the silver screen in a way that silences any doubters. In a film with great performances all around, hers is clearly the best one.
There are few characters that are pretty close to Elisa, and one of them is Giles, played by veteran actor Richard Jenkins. Giles is an aging gay artist that lives with Elisa above a movie theater. He too is struggling to be himself in a world that insists so immensely on who you should be. Jenkins gives a heartfelt, comedic performance that compliments Hawkins very well. Another character that Elisa interacts with often is, of course, the creature, played by Doug Jones. Jones brings the character to life with bodily movements that communicate well with Hawkins. He’s been in plenty of rubber suits before, and always manages to use the design to his advantage.
The antagonist of the film, Strickland, is just as interesting as Elisa. Michael Shannon gives a commanding performance as the abusive Colonel Richard Strickland. Shannon is a repulsive soul, but his drive is just so admirable. We get to see where he’s coming from too, as we find out that he’s trapped in a family painting where he just doesn’t fit in. Strickland is man that is always trying to prove his masculinity, and he’s rather good at delivering, yet he’s curious about how many times he has to prove himself.
The Shape of Water is an adult fairytale about loneliness and love. It’s filled with plenty of committed performances, especially from Sally Hawkins and Michael Shannon. Guillermo Del Toro gives us yet another surreal fantasy from the pages of his mind, and this sits alongside Pans Labyrinth as one of his best. The Shape of Water shows how true love fills you up, and transcends everything.