More Oscar hopefuls continue to expand out into theaters around the country, bringing weird, awkward, and different stories that are rarely (if ever) seen on screen. Guillermo Del Toro’s The Shape of Water most identifies with this notion, offering a story that is told in a way unlike what we’ve seen before. The following review will be spoiler free.
Directed By: Guillermo Del Toro
Written By: Guillermo Del Toro and Vanessa Taylor
Lonely Elisa (Hawkins) is a mute woman that works for a government laboratory where she and Zelda (Spencer) clean up the facility and make lives easier for the employees working there. However, one day, a new asset arrives at the laboratory: a mysterious water monster of unknown origin (Jones). Elisa begins to develop a relationship with the monster that turns romantic. But, government officials led by Strickland (Shannon) want to dissect the creature to learn about it, leaving Elisa and others to act quickly to save it while other forces also look to seek out their own agendas.
Guillermo Del Toro has received considerable credibility from genre enthusiasts over time, and for good reason. While he loves these large, epic tales, he performs best in faux fairytales that blend usual and eccentric elements. He enjoys haunting oddities that speak mightily to those that prefer wacky and wild films.
In fact, there’s another version of Hollywood in a parallel universe where Guillermo Del Toro practically owns the industry. Those that know him enjoy his version of Hellboy, but he almost had two other huge projects in his arsenal that would have made him a huge star. Del Toro was originally supposed to direct The Hobbit trilogy, but, he unfortunately had to leave the project due to MGM’s extended financial troubles that had delayed the production and interfered with his other works.
And yet, Guillermo Del Toro himself claims that his biggest regret is not becoming the head voice behind Universal’s Dark Universe which became a disaster after The Mummy was unceremoniously panned by fans and critics.
But, Del Toro continues to move on, creating stories that align with his odd touches. He’s gone as far as saying that The Shape of Water is one of his most beloved stories yet, showing that he still continues to push boundaries.
Guillermo Del Toro is the Star of The Shape of Water
When Del Toro’s heart is in a project, it oozes off the screen. The Shape of Water is clearly a labor of love, becoming a story that is oddly enchanting. A love story between a mute woman and a water monster is a premise that could easily become the center of a lot jokes. Something that’s that implausible could easily be written off by those that are looking for a more “serious” movie experience. But, Del Toro breaths life into this story, creating bonds that shockingly work. Neither Elisa or the monster have anyone else, making their relationship feel quite organic.
Obviously, there’s some fantastical elements to The Shape of Water. To combat these feelings, Del Toro adds an oddly quirky style in combination with a Lady-and-the-Tramp-like score that infuses some extra whimsy. The Shape of Water bends reality without ever becoming unrealistic, creating a weird dichotomy that is always engrossing. Del Toro takes chances with expressing characters’ feelings and inner thoughts, making a mute woman and water monster (characters that never speaks) always fascinating.
Surprisingly Timely Themes That Blend Organically into the Story
With that strange energy comes very relatable themes that are more timely than ever. In essence, the relationship between Elisa and the water monster is a metaphor for forbidden love. The juxtaposition of this idea with the wholesome image of the 1960’s creates some quasi-hysteria that forces this relationship and the mannerisms of other characters to remain hidden. This point can seem obvious, but Del Toro never makes it his agenda to force the idea that any love is true love. Rather, the story merely makes this idea apparent via solid storytelling. Richard Jenkins supplys a lovely supporting performance that adds to this concept as well.
The best movies that act as cultural statements contains stories that focus on character and well-crafted stories. You begin to side with The Shape of Water‘s core beliefs because you come to love the characters. Sally Hawkins expresses so much love and grief as a mute woman that you ultimately align with her plight and that of others as well. The Shape of Water is truly beautiful in that regard.
Its Signature Style May Get in the Way at Times
With all its enchanting glory, The Shape of Water isn’t without flaws. Del Toro adds a Cold War element to the story since it takes place within the 1960’s. It seems perfectly reasonable to have this piece of of the puzzle considering that the water monster is a sensitive asset that many governing bodies would like to get their hands on during this era. However, there isn’t ever a payoff to this component that makes it worthwhile or adds to the plot. Certain characters could have been written differently to disregard it altogether but still act accordingly to their personal ideology in the same way and The Shape of Water would have had a tighter narrative.
The Cold War creates a fascinating backdrop for the story. But, you might come away wishing that it had as much tender love as the central relationship.
The Shape of Water is bizarre, weird, enchanting, and lovely, creating a cinematic experience that is unlike what you’ve seen before. You’ve seen this story before in other films, but you haven’t seen it told quite like this. This film is strangely endearing, creating a beautiful relationship out of a premise that may seem laughable at first. It has its issues, but its certainly worthy of the praise it has received from early screenings. It gets an A-.
With its creative structure and timely messages, The Shape of Water is sure to become an Oscar contender in the coming months.
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