One glance at the poster and credits for The Shape of Water and you know you are in for an otherworldly experience.
Directed by Guillermo del Toro
Produced by Guillermo del Toro
Screenplay by Guillermo del Toro & Vanessa Taylor
Story by Guillermo del Toro
Guillermo del Toro has expressed that whilst his first nine films “rephrased the fears of his childhood”, The Shape of Water is his first film speaking “as an adult”, addressing topics like “trust, otherness, sex, love, where we’re going. These are not concerns that I had when I was nine or seven.”
Set during September and October of 1962, Sally Hawkins plays Elisa Esposito, a mute cleaning lady at a research facility that has recently become home to an exotic Amazonian aquatic creature.
However it is the critter’s captor who is the films true monster. Michael Shannon as Colonel Richard Strickland wields a large electric cattle prod and keeps the beast under lock and key, as his team of scientists examine the “fish-man” with the aim of advancing his military career by using the creature’s unique physiology to beat the Russians in the space race.
I loved basking in the extraordinary performances from Hawkins and Shannon, and Octavia Spencer is wonderful as Elisa’s colleague and mouthpiece Zelda Fuller. Elisa’s neighbour and only other close friend is Giles (Richard Jenkins), who works as a commercial artist in the declining arena of magazine art. His key project throughout the film is an advertisement for jelly that he literally keeps going back to the drawing board to get right, when the client would probably prefer a photo over an illustration.
It’s a neat representation of Del Toro’s own path, making monster movies that have achieved moderate commercial success whilst being loved by fans. I myself am not a devotee of his work, but definitely appreciated his original vision and clear dedication to his craft.
Elisa lives above a movie theatre, so we naturally see scenes from movies of the era, (specifically The Story of Ruth and Mardi Gras, both of which reference goddesses) and the TV is always on in Giles apartment showcasing the big shows of the time like Mr. Ed and Bonanza. Del Toro says the origins of the story came from wanting to see the Creature from the Black Lagoon hook up with that films female lead Julia Adams.
The film is certainly more explicit than I would have expected and Elisa appears to start each day by boiling eggs and masturbating in a bathtub while her eggs cook. Sex is never far from the surface of the film as we see Colonel Strickland in an uncomfortable and intimate scene with his wife. There are an AWFUL lot of ideas going on in the film, love & loneliness, Gods & monsters, power & knowledge, success, relationships, and dozens more.
The colour green features throughout the film as does the number five. I’m not sure what these represent!
Del Toro delivers his tenth feature film with the confident stamp of the auteur that he is. As summed up in this excellent review of the film by The Northerner’s Jude Noel The Shape of Water is- “a movie that speaks more through its lyrical use of colour and imagery…than a concrete plot”, and may not gel with all-comers.
I found the film primarily Exquisite and Mesmerising, but perhaps would have enjoyed a trim here and there to reduce the length or remove unnecessary aspects of the plot. Sally Hawkins is incredible in a career defining role and her only crime is to be up against the equally superb Frances McDormand for Best Actress category in this awards season. While McDormand threatens a clean sweep, it would be downright criminal for Hawkins not to get recognition for her brilliant performance, the very definition of expression in her role without spoken words.
3 & 1/2 Stars. Exquisite and Mesmerising.