Set in the 1960s, a cleaner in a top research facility forms a bond with an amphibious creature who is being held captive.
The Shape of Water is storytelling at its best. It is film at its most beautiful, most moving and most memorable. For all its inspirations and nods to past storytelling, Guillermo del Toro has succeeded to craft a film that brims with its own uniqueness and an impossibly attractive helping of nostalgia.
From the onset, there is a dreamlike quality to The Shape of Water that is reminiscent of classic European cinema. We’re introduced to the mute character of Elisa (Sally Hawkins) as she sleeps in a room submerged in water. It’s a moment of pure magical realism and one that sets the scene for the illusory events that are to follow. This is then reinforced with the score, which is undeniably French in its sounds of the accordion and whistles. The Shape of Water may not be a musical, but there is a certainly a lot of love for the genre beneath its Black Lagoon depths.
Del Toro is no stranger to creating fairy tales that are grounded in reality and for all The Shape of Water’s moments of magic, there is plenty of authentic commentary on themes surrounding love and acceptance. Michael Shannon’s character of Richard Strickland is the seamless villain and obstacle for the film’s central romance. Driven by his greed and need to win, he is the perfect opposition for Elisa who is drawn to romantic ideals of protection, kindness and doing the right thing. Strickland’s twisted religious views add to the complexity of his villainy; he believes himself to be close to a god – more so than the marginalised women below him and the creature he’s stolen from the Amazon – using this as a way to justify his immoral behaviour.
This film is one of opposites, where a simple battle between good and evil sits front and centre. For all the thematic ugliness, however, there is an overflowing amount of beautiful cinematography and attention to minute details, making the horror all the more stark. The costume design immaculately compliments the set; where shades of green dominate to emphasise the story’s fantastical side and edge of otherworldliness. It’s no surprise to see The Shape of Water as another visual enchantment from a director whose films are consistently delightful to look at. The fluid movement of the camera propels the film forward with balletic charm, barely stopping to beautifully reflect the unstoppable movement of water itself.
Both Sally Hawkins and Octavia Spencer should be applauded for their performances that help shape this film’s vision. Elisa and Spencer’s Zelda are the yin to each other’s yang, where Zelda’s witty charisma and Elisa’s silence work together in moments that are sometimes sharply funny, but always charming.
The Shape of Water walks the thin line between horror and fantasy at ease, exploring the ultimate idea that love knows no bounds. In the face of adversity, when the odds are against you, The Shape of Water wants you to know that you can accomplish anything and all you need is your heart. It’s a gorgeous story both inside and out, and an immediate appreciation has to be given to a film that works so tirelessly – yet effortlessly – to convince you of an impossible love.
Believe the hype, because The Shape of Water is striking and unforgettable. It might be a bit too unusual for some people’s tastes, but those who like their fiction to be strange and alluring will fall in love with The Shape of Water’s weird and wonderful ways. It’s a fairy tale draped in horror, complete with a romantic centre that screams, rightfully so, that love is love.
Words: Jessy Williams (@JessyCritical)