Coming from the guy behind Pan’s Labyrinth and the director of the stylish Hellboy films, The Shape of Water was always going to be a bit of a weird film. Would that weirdness be too much or could Guillermo Del Toro deliver a film that really lives up to all the hype, and there has been a lot of positive talk coming out of last years film festivals and its US release last December.
The first thing to notice about The Shape of Water is the slightly steam punk, early 1900s style the film is shot in. The attention to detail to make everything look just right is astounding given the relatively modest budget. This combined with a score that compliments every scene perfectly make Shape of Water a treat for people who study the filmmaking process.
You are introduced to Elisa, played by the fantastic Sally Hawkins who is a mute character, and the idea of focusing a modern film on a mute character is bold, but it pays off big in the film. It may be simply because you have to focus more on the characters face and actions when they can’t speak, but something about her is captivating.
Alongside her is Richard Jenkins, playing her friend Giles and it’s through his eyes we see a lot of the film. He is excellent and his relationship to Elisa helps to endear her even more to the audience. Also on Elisa’s side is Octavia Spencer as co-worker Zelda, who comes across as someone who always has Elisa’s back, even when she probably should stay out of it. You really feel there is a connection between each of them and Elisa, and that is a theme that repeats itself throughout the film.
On the other side of the film is the daunting and relentless Col. Strickland, play by Michael Shannon as only he can. He plays this role so well, his piercing eyes and unnerving voice lend themselves perfectly to being the antagonist of a film that has so many sweet characters. What makes him even more compelling is the way we get a glimpse of his motivations, and that they don’t necessarily come from a bad place. The way the film is put together, he is very clearly the closest we get to a “Bad guy”, but there is a little more there than just a standard angry antagonist.
The thing pitting Shannon against Hawkins and her friends is the amphibious man played by the perennially unrecognisable Doug Jones. There is an argument that he is the Andy Serkis of the practical make up world. Doug Jones has played an alien in Star Trek, Abe Sapien in the Hellboy Franchise, and now with the Amphibious man in this film he has perfected the technique with a character that doesn’t even speak. Of course a lot of credit goes to the incredible make-up effects that makes him look so otherworldly, but the nuance of his performance really sells the connection between him and Elisa.
That connection between the two may not work for every viewer, and there was times for me when I wasn’t sure. By the end of the film those concerns were gone and I bought into the fantastical nature of the film. The Shape of Water features some of the best performances of the year, and it is easy to see why it received so many nominations at the Oscars this year. If you buy into the world and the story, The Shape of Water delivers a story that at its heart is about the sweeter parts of the world and the connections between them.
Good: Incredible Performances, a very sweet and endearing story, and a beautifully made film from the cinematography and the costumes, to the score and everything in between.
Bad: Not a film for the masses, as I can see some casual movie fans not enjoying the strangeness of the story, other than that, there isn’t much wrong.
9/10 – Fantastic film, but I am still not sure what shape water is.