Wednesday 17 January 2018

Film Review: The Shape of Water

After forays into blockbuster anime (Pacific Rim) and gothic horror (Crimson Peak), Guillermo del Toro returns to his roots for a genre-bending monster mash. 

The Shape of Water sees the Mexican auteur commandingly deliver an dark fantasy fairytale, a suspenseful conspiracy thriller and heist caper, a fish-out-of-water comedy (literally) and an enchanting love story all wrapped up in one charming and beautiful package. It’s Amelie meets Creature From The Black Lagoon meets The Little Mermaid, and it’s easily del Toro’s best English language film to date.

Set in Baltimore during the Cold War, The Shape of Water centres around Elisa (Sally Hawkins), a mute janitor, and her relationship with a mysterious amphibian creature (Doug Jones) being held in the secret military research facility where she works. Through their limited ability to communicate (Elisa first teaches the creature the sign language for ‘egg’), the odd couple of outcasts strike up an unlikely romance, one bound by their shared feeling of loneliness and incompleteness. 

However, their secret romance soon hits a snag when Michael Shannon’s ruthless military colonel plans to destroy the creature, an so the pair must devise an escape plan with the help of Elisa’s neighbour – Richard Jenkins as Giles, a delightfully eccentric artist – and co-worker – Octavia Spencer’s Zelda.

Meticulous in its craftsmanship, every frame, facet and fabric in The Shape of Water is dripping with sumptuous detail, from the intricate sets and rich colours (splashes of grimy teal, cool blues and warm ochre dominate) to the grotesque design of the creature himself, complete with gills, frills, fangs and googly eyes that swivel. 

It’s a masterful period creature feature that is overflowing with affection for its setting, its influences and its themes; an otherworldly experience pouring with whimsy, sensuality and beauty. Del Toro’s screenplay, which was co-wrote by Vanessa Taylor, plumbs the depths of prejudice, politics and science, as well as sexuality. The cherry on top is Alexandre Desplat’s dreamy and bewitching score, which sounds as though you’re sipping on a latte in an underwater Parisian cafĂ©. 

Hawkins delivers a career-best performance as Elisa, a timid spinster who lives above a movie theatre. Whether she’s dancing with her mop and bucket or staging a dramatic breakout, Hawkins brings compassion and ferocity in equal measure. Similarly, Jones brings majestic physicality as the creature, buried underneath layers of prosthetics but still emoting like the best of them.

Shannon’s menacing colonel is unpredictable and unsettling, and the veteran actor carries this off well. Michael Stuhlbarg, who is also receiving acclaim for two other Oscar frontrunners in Call Me By Your Name and The Post, is great as jittery doctor Hoffstetler, a man with a secret. Also excellent is Jenkins, Elisa’s soft-spoken friend and neighbour. Even Spencer, here afforded a fairly one-note character, finds affords wit and motherly warmth.

The Shape of Water is currently being showered with awards, and rightly so; in addition to being visually stunning, it’s a delicate and absorbing fable that is a testament to the power of love and compassion. 

The Verdict: 9/10

Populated with captivating performances and delicious design, The Shape of Water bound to go over swimmingly with fans of del Toro and genre work alike. It’s one to savour.

The Shape of Water is in cinemas across Australia from January 18.

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