With unique special effects, beautiful cinematography and a classic story, “The Shape of Water” is a fantastic fairy tale for adults.
The film stars Sally Hawkins as Eliza, a mute janitor at a government lab in 1960s Baltimore. She lives a simple life, often accompanied by her best friend and neighbor Giles, played by Richard Jensen of “Step Brother” and “Six Feet Under,” a closeted gay man who serves as the film’s narrator, and Zelda played by Octavia Spencer of “The Help” and “Hidden Figures,” her co-worker who she shares the night shift with at the lab. Everything changes when she discovers an amphibious creature being secretly held in the facility. As she bonds with the creature, in a full bodysuit enhanced with makeup, Eliza and her friends concoct a plan to help the monster escape.
The two leads, Hawkins and Jones, deliver captivating performances even though neither of their characters can speak. Even without dialogue, all of their emotions are clearly communicated. It feels authentic because they are both so utterly convincing.
Much like his previous film “Pan’s Labyrinth,” del Toro is able to combine his amazing visuals with a more mature adaptation of “Creature from the Black Lagoon.” This is not to say that the film is pornographic or gratuitous, but it contains some sexual material and brief instances of violence that clearly differentiate it from a children’s film. The majority of the film is shot with a unique green tint, which makes it appear almost underwater.
Michael Shannon is no rookie at playing villains. From “Man of Steel” to “99 Homes,” he has always brought a sociopathic flair to his roles, including his character as the government agent determined to capture the creature.
The film’s protagonists – a mute, a closeted gay man and a black woman – are all oppressed in the 1960s setting, but neither their mission nor their conversations seem cliché or heavy handed. All of these characters are three-dimensional creatures, thanks to the screenplay by del Toro and Vanessa Taylor.
As the film progresses, the plot gets a little wacky. However, the setting, performances and mood are all grounded in reality, allowing the audience to become swept up in the story being told. Even as the romantic subplot between Eliza and the creature comes into focus, these characters feel so genuine and the more intimate scenes are done so tastefully that it never feels goofy.
While it is technically a monster movie, “The Shape of Water” is not especially scary. There are brief instances of violence and one heavily implied scene of a house pet’s death, but it is not gratuitous. The film is certainly tense, but del Toro does not seem interested in scaring audiences with cheap jump scares. He would rather tell a love story that just happens to contain an underwater creature.
It has already won Golden Globes for its score and direction. I could imagine “The Shape of Water” being mentioned quite often throughout the awards season. Del Toro is now a front runner for best director. The film’s visual effects, cinematography, screenplay and editing were all fantastic. Hawkins will likely be nominated for best actress as she played a character whose thoughts and emotions were always clear, despite not speaking at all. Jenkins, Shannon and Spencer may also find themselves nominated for best supporting acting awards, which would be deserved.
“The Shape of Water” is a great movie with something to offer to everyone. It is a love story, a creature feature, a Cold War era espionage film, a look at loneliness of forgotten characters on the fringe of society, and above all, an extremely entertaining film.