Review by J.T. Johnson
“The Shape of Water” is the new film from visionary director Guillermo del Toro and it is a love story with equal parts “Beauty and the Beast” and “Creature from the Black Lagoon”. It is headlined by a stellar cast that will hopefully win all the awards. It also contains all the beautiful imagery that one would come to expect from a film by del Toro.
Del Toro has always done his best work when he is not being held back by the studio. While films such as “Pacific Rim” can still be quite gorgeous to look at, he is often held back by the genres he has to adhere to in those films. But with movies such as “The Shape of Water”, you get to see the work of a true artist in the business.
Every shot that del Toro and his cinematographer Dan Lautsen compose is simply beautiful. It looks as though they have taken brilliantly gothic paintings and put them to the big screen in full motion. Thankfully, “Shape” has quite an enchanting story at the center of it as well.
Set in the 1960s at the height of the Cold War, Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins) is a mute janitor that cannot speak due to an injury she sustained as an infant. Her only friends is a closeted gay artist named Giles (Richard Jenkins) and her African-American co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer). Both Elisa and Zelda work at a secret research center headed up by the cruel Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon).
One day, a new amphibious creature referred to only as the Asset (Doug Jones) is brought in to be analyzed. Unfortunately, Richard reveals that he hates the creature and he loves to torture the Asset whenever he gets the chance. Once Elisa encounters the creature, though, she ends up feeling an unlikely attraction to the creature and he is also attracted to her as well. According to Elisa, the source of her feelings comes from the fact that he just sees her for who she is and doesn’t see her scars.
Through Elisa’s supporting stars, we also see the cruelness of the world towards minorities. Giles is a lonely man in a time that doesn’t accept who he truly is while Richard often dismisses Zelda as an inferior being. There are times where del Toro can lay on the message of inequality pretty thick, but for the most part he avoids coming off as too preachy.
Beyond the beautiful visuals and the strange yet lovely story, this movie does not contain one bad performance, particularly from Hawkins as Elisa. This is an actor that has to express her emotions entirely with her body, her eyes and through sign language. She also succeeds with the pretty hefty task of convincing everyone in the audience that this woman could fall in love with a mysterious creature from the sea.
In the supporting roles, we have the ever dependable Spencer as Zelda, a strong-willed woman who is also Elisa’s best friend at work. She was nominated for an Oscar when she co-starred in “Hidden Figures” last year and this is another film that reminds us about how truly talented she really is.
Still, the winner for best supporting actor here is Jenkins as the often funny yet sometimes tragic Giles. He is unsure of just how he can help Elisa and the Asset, but dammit if he isn’t going to try because Elisa is all he’s got in this mad world. There is a moment in a diner where Giles tries to get close to someone he is attracted to and he gets a subtle yet harsh lesson in the world that he lives in and this scene is worth watching the film for alone.
In the villains department, there is no one better than Shannon. In this flick, it is Richard that is the true monster of the piece. He hates the Asset and he proves that he will do everything in his power to make sure that the creature is properly disposed of. A truly good villain in films is one that you absolutely hate but yet you love to see them when they’re onscreen and Shannon pulls this off brilliantly.
“The Shape of Water” is a very unlikely love story and I doubt everyone in the audience will accept it because it may just be too “weird” for them. However, if you open up your mind and take in this story, you will see that it is a powerful examination of good, evil, love and hate that is helped along by powerful images and terrific performances.