By: Nick van Dinther
There are certain directors that have a specific style audiences can always identify – Quentin Tarantino, Wes Anderson, Tim Burton to name a few. Guillermo del Toro (The Devil’s Backbone, Pan’s Labyrinth) is surely a part of that crew. When it comes to The Shape of Water, del Toro’s style is out in full-force to bring us an unforgettable visual spectacle.
The story revolves around Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins), a mute woman working as a cleaning lady for a secret government laboratory. After a highly classified sea creature known simply as the “asset” is brought into the facility, Elisa takes an interest and bonds with the creature. As time goes on and their bond strengthens, she concludes that the creature is no longer safe there.
Sally Hawkins is delightful as the almost childlike Elisa. She brings such a brightness to the screen, which is difficult to do without saying a word. Although the focus of the story is Elisa’s bond with the “asset”, her chemistry with her next-door neighbour Giles (Richard Jenkins) provides some of the best scenes in the film. They counter the grand set pieces with some intimate and sweet dialogue driven scenes that they both shine in.
The creature in question is played by Doug Jones, who is no stranger to this type of character (see: Hellboy and Always Watching: A Marble Hornets Story). Despite a few clichés regarding how his creature interacts with its surroundings, Jones’ performance is naturally – and expectedly – strong. The fact that both him and Hawkins can create such mesmerizing scenes without the use of speech is quite the feat. This film is also helped by stellar performances from Michael Shannon (who is also in his wheelhouse playing a menacing and unsettling antagonist), Octavia Spencer, and Michael Stuhlbarg. Everyone uses their moments effectively.
As good as the cast is, the real star of this picture is Guillermo del Toro. Aside from giving audiences a visual masterpiece, he finds a wonderful balance between romance and horror to craft, what he describes as, a retelling of Beauty and the Beast. From the opening scene which introduces you to an almost Harry Potter-esque world, he plays out a beautiful fantasy filled to the brim with heart. He has crafted unique characters that fit perfectly in this world. They’re not too peculiar to become unrelatable, and all their motivations make sense. Even sex is portrayed extremely well in this film as del Toro uses it to show true character and emotions as opposed to featuring it as a gratuitous gimmick. However, one of the biggest risks that del Toro takes in The Shape of Water is the inclusion of different extreme tones, but he executes this well.
The Shape of Water is one of Guillermo del Toro’s best films. He has created a work of art for the ages that will be a frequent topic of discussion during award season.
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Nick van Dinther: @NickVanDinther