The Shape of Water is Guillermo del Toro’s latest fantasy film. It’s about a mute woman who falls in love with a captive undersea creature. The film has charming performances, complex characters and beautiful dreamlike cinematography. At the twenty minute mark, I had the sense that everything was being done right and that feeling never let up. It is Del Toro’s best film by far. The story feels fresh and earnest. It’s a mature fairy tale laced with raw sexuality and placed in a 1960’s setting. I think it’s one of the best films I’ve seen in recent years.
The Shape of Its Characters.
Sally Hawkins plays the love stricken heroine with remarkable charm despite her lack of dialogue. She’s quirky, but her desire for companionship is immediately relatable. All the characters are well balanced and the story takes the time to explore each of them. The entire cast is excellent. Richard Jenkins stands out as the equally lonely best friend. Michael Shannon gives a complex and terrifying performance as the antagonist of the picture. Michael Stuhlbarg impresses in his role as one of the lab scientists and Octavia Spencer lends her comedic talents (go watch Dinner for Schmucks). No character is left untended. I became involved in every one of their stories.
The Themes, Characters & Story Are in Harmony.
The film balances human desires with the proprieties of a 1960’s time period. There’s a focus on being “voiceless”. The merman cannot speak and neither can our heroine. Hidden sexuality, both homosexual and heterosexual is on full display, along with commentary about the African-American experience. It’s never preachy, but just the opposite. It feels whimsical. These characters all share a commonality with the captured creature. They lack a voice in society to express their inner desires. It’s rare that the elements of a film come together to focus on the same idea so throughly. It is the mark of an auteur.
This Director’s Skill Has Matured.
Guillermo del Toro does a masterful job with the direction. He’s finally moved beyond shooting pretty sets and into the soul of the story. It’s a testament to his ability that he is able to marry fantasy elements to such relatable feelings. The camera work and production design are standouts as usual for him. The picture has a playful quality that is not afraid to be adult. The human/”creature from the black lagoon” sexuality may unsettle some viewers, but I went along for the ride. Del Toro has scratched his merman itch before (Hellboy), but his popcorn flicks were clearly warm-ups for this more sentimental work. There’s a dash of Splash and Amelié in there, but this whimsical fantasy-romance makes its own statement. I don’t have a single criticism other than a dip in pacing going from the second to third act. It’s likely Del Toro will win Best Director at the Oscars. Go see this movie!
Year – 2017 | TRT – 2:03 | Directed by – Guillermo del Toro | Written by – Guillermo del Toro (screenplay by), Vanessa Taylor (screenplay by), Guillermo del Toro (story by) | Cast – Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Octavia Spencer