After viewing The Shape of Water (directed by Guillermo del Toro) during the Telluride at Dartmouth Film Festival, the first thing that came to mind, was “magic, pure magic”. Not magic, in terms of say wizardry or sorcery, but magic as in film magic. If I were to describe The Shape of Water in one word, that word would be enchanting. The entire film is, from start to finish, one very, beautiful film. It isn’t merely a horror film, even though it features a monster. It’s a wonderfully sad tale of two misfits meeting and falling in love. It’s also, in my opinion, Guillermo del Toro’s most perfect film of his entire career (Crimson Peak, Pacific Rim, Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy, and Blade II) , and impressed me greatly.
The Shape of Water is set against the backdrop of the Cold War in America, circa 1962, in Sci-Fi fashion, in a high security government laboratory. It tells the story of a lonely mute, named Elisa (played by Sally Hawkins), who is bored with her life. Her life is changed forever, however, when she and her friend, Zelda, (played by Octavia Spencer) discover a classified experiment, a sea monster, known only as “The Asset” (played by Doug Jones).
The first things to note about The Shape of Water is, in typical del Toro fashion, its atmosphere, mood, and setting. The opening scene alone, drew me in. Set underwater, it is very striking, and features narration by Richard Jenkins. Much of the film’s cinematic nature comes from its lighting and camerawork, both of which are impeccable. Another thing I loved about it, is the constant film references, from tap-dancing moments to the scenes of the theater that seems to be right next to Elisa’s apartment. Alexandre Desplat’s musical score (The King’s Speech, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Godzilla) is extraordinary, too. I especially love the music that plays in the scenes between Elisa and the creature, where it sounds so beautiful, magical, and French, all at the same time.
The performances, of course, are also a big part of why the film works. Sally Hawkins absolutely deserves an Oscar for her amazing performance. She’s extraordinary in a role that requires absolutely no dialogue, and conveys so much emotion. Her scenes with the creature (played by del Toro’s favorite regular, Doug Jones, under prosthetics, costume, and makeup) are brilliant. The fact that both characters can’t speak is a major plus. This is best evident in several sequences. A particular favorite scene is the one where the creature and Elisa embrace while the faucet is running. It’s another magical moment in a film full of loads of them. The rest of the supporting cast is good. Octavia Spencer, as Zelda, gets some nice moments between her and Elisa, particularly when she confronts Elisa about the creature.
The production design by Paul Austerberry must also be noted. Typical for a del Toro film, it’s very stylized. A lot of people have compared the monster to Abe Sapien from Hellboy (2004), but it must be noted, both characters are intentionally and likely based off The Creature From The Black Lagoon (1954). The film is colorful and features energetic cinematography, and the production designers managed to recreate the feel of the 1960’s, particularly when it comes to hometown diners.
The Shape of Water is a magnificent piece of art. It is a lovely, almost surrealistic movie that reminds me of classic Mexican, surreal cinema at its best (like del Toro’s own The Devil’s Backbone (2001). The film boasts a wonderful lead performance, looks great, and has some magnificent moments spread throughout. It’s by far my favorite film of the year, to date, and I couldn’t recommend it enough. It’s breathtaking and spellbinding.
Now showing in Hanover at the Nugget, Monday through Thursday - 3:50 and 6:50 PM, Friday - 3:50, 6:50, and 9:25 PM, Saturday and Sunday at 12:50, 3:50, 6:50, and 9:25 PM.