The Shape of Water Review
The Shape of Water is a fantasy thriller film directed by Guillermo del Toro and written by del Toro and Vanessa Taylor. The film stars Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Doug Jones, Michael Stuhlbarg, and Octavia Spencer.
The Story/The Direction:
This film takes place during the Cold War and it centers on a mute custodian Eliza (Hawkins). She cleans at a high-security government laboratory when Richard Strickland (Shannon) shows up with this captured sea creature (Jones). She grows to care for the creature as Strickland and his higher-ups do tests on it and try to figure out its origins as well as the Russians. Add these all together and you get a film that is absolutely delightful to see. Due to the fantasy aspect, the team behind the film had to get everything down-pat to create a story a world that feels authentic and also a believable romance for Eliza and the creature.
It is very clear that del Toro put his heart and soul into this film. He was able to bring this story in such an effective and magical way. This film showcases what he is known for, tense action, a touching romance, and also some horror. He pretty much took his film resume and put it all together in one film and it works to support the world and its characters. This film also looks fantastic from the lighting to the colors used. This is also something that del Toro has been known for and here it sucks you into this adult fairy tale.
What helps a film like this succeed is that the writing gives each character layers and moments for them to shine. This film is lead by a charming Hawkins as Eliza. Almost all of the film, she is mute and has to communicate via sign or her facial reactions. Before the creature even shows up on screen, you get a background on who Eliza is. She has her routine that she goes through every day which includes feeding her neighbor, Giles, played wonderfully by Jenkins. She then goes to work and is almost late every day but is saved by her coworker Zelda (Spencer). This background is able to ground the film before the creature is introduced and the fantasy part moves forward. She is also surrounded by Stulbarg as Dr. Robert Hoffstetler who wants to study the creature and the film's big bad Colonel Richard Strickland. He Shannon does very well at the bad guy but he's not one that is bad because he has to be. del Toro makes him just as fleshed out as the other characters and while you may not agree with his motives, you understand them. The creature (Jones) is essentially pulled from The Creature from the Black Lagoon plus Abe Sapien from the Hellboy films.
The costume design and the makeup of the creature are great and it really further shows del Toro's appreciation for practical effects over computer generated. It allows for his characters/actors to interact with the creature and makes the viewers feel the connection towards that the characters have. As always, Jones is great in his portrayal of the creature and is able to make this creature really come to life. It's not just a man in a costume, it's a creature that both can cause damage and feel love. When you are told of this creature's background, you see that he represents more than meets the eye. You see the obvious parallels between him and Eliza but also Giles, Dr. Hoffstetler, and Zelda. He can be aligned with anyone who has been subjugated to abuse, verbal or physical. He also represents the love between people who have historically been looked down upon if they are together. Whether it's interracial love or a Romeo and Juliet type of love, the love between Eliza and the creature applies.
Where this film slightly falters is when del Toro tries to introduce humor into the story. While they are funny in the moment and it does keep the story somewhat fresh, it does take away from the seriousness of the film a little bit. You have this film that deals with multiple types of misrepresented people and it's supposed to be this thriller. The comedy seemed to pull the film in a different direction. There were also some plot holes that could be recognized that could have prevented some events from occurring. One could also say that the second half of the film is slightly weaker than first half however that is not that significant.
This film is perhaps one of the best films to come out in 2017 if not, the most creative. True love is like the shape of water: fluid and limitless. Multiple characters experience this message and this makes the film by Del Toro absolutely lovely. It takes The Creature from the Black Lagoon and turns it on its head. Del Toro takes a story that has a clear villain and asks "what if villainy is just based on perspective and all the creature wanted to do was fall in love?" His story is reminiscent of the musical, Wicked: The Untold Story of the Witches of Oz, and the Gregory Maguire novel, "Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West." Both the musical and the novel tell an alternative story of The Wizard of Oz film and the L. Frank Baum novel, "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz." This fantastic film takes a page from that and tells a very touching yet tragic romantic story that looks amazing. Del Toro continues his artistic path with this film that could warrant a nomination for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay. If you're able to see it in theatres, go see it, and then again when you buy it on Blu-ray or VOD.
Rating: 4.5/5.0 bowties
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