Not arriving in the UK until February 2018, after gracing many US best-of lists at the end of 2017 thanks to a disparity in the release dates, The Shape Of Water may find itself lost in the shuffle in some 2018 wrap-ups. The film has already shifted from big screen event to DVD in regular rotation at DoG HQ.
Writer/director Guillermo del Toro is a Den of Geek favourite and we were rooting for him following the disappointing response to the wonderful and still grossly underrated Crimson Peak. Not only did del Toro deliver something special with The Shape Of Water, but he found massive, well-deserved success, too. The film returned just under $200 million at the box office and took home the best film award at the Oscars, with del Toro taking the best director award for himself.
The Shape Of Water is a would-be sequel to Jack Arnold’s 1954 Universal monster classic Creature From The Black Lagoon (some years earlier del Toro had been working on a remake). Elisa (Sally Hawkins) is a cleaner at a secretive government facility. It’s here that she meets the creature (Doug Jones), captured from the lagoon and held by the US government. They soon bond, finding ways to communicate, but shady agent Strickland (Michael Shannon) intensifies his cruel experiments on the captive amphibian man, and Elisa recruits co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer) and neighbour Giles (Richard Jenkins) to help her attempt a daring rescue. Then she fucks the fishman.
Guillermo del Toro has authored a film that is rich in subtext, romance and beauty. The Shape Of Water is a remarkable film. It’s a different type of film to the comic-book action movies that account for so much of modern geek culture, but a tale about outsiders told in the language of classic cinema is a welcome addition to the geek cinema landscape.
There’s so much to talk about when explaining what we love about The Shape Of Water that it can be difficult to know where to start. The characters seem as good a place as any.
A wonderful collection of outcasts, the heroes of The Shape Of Water are disempowered and isolated. Elisa is afflicted with an injury that prevents her from speaking, making a labour of communication and separating her from those around her. Zelda is ignored by her husband. Giles’ homosexuality has cost him his job and forced him into an unhealthy relationship with pie. The cast, of course, are uniformly brilliant (Sally Hawkins’ performance in particular really warrants its own article).
The themes of communication and kindness all come alive with the heroic trio. The story of the decidedly villainous Strickland is mesmerising in its own right. Strickland has an important job, a wife and two children (a boy and a girl), a picturesque house in a sunny suburb and he’s even thinking of getting himself a shiny new automobile. Yet, Strickland is a cruel and unfulfilled man. As the film enters its tense and thrilling conclusion, the hand steering the wheel of Strickland’s brand new Cadillac is seeping pus and rotting.
The Shape Of Water is a story about a creature and a monster. Michael Shannon is phenomenal in the role, his turn bombastic and chilling.
Every element of the film feels polished, like it’s been worked and worked until it’s exactly right. There’s the canny decision to set the film in the 1960s, allowing for social comment and contributing to the wonderful look. The pacing is just right, in that things move along at a good speed but it’s not too tight. The Shape Of Water is a sweet, sad film that needs to be sat with and felt, and del Toro wisely gives it just enough air to allow you to without bloating out the runtime. It’s even laced with the director’s trademark fairytale allusions. It’s also important to mention the effects work, all brilliant and achieved on a tight budget.
It is Guillermo del Toro’s best film yet and has been worthy of every plaudit it has received to date. The Shape Of Water is inventive, beautiful and heartbreaking cinema.