“The Shape of Water” – Movie Review

“The Shape of Water,” dir. Guillermo Del Toro

An other-worldly fairy tale, set against the backdrop of Cold War era America circa 1962. In the hidden high-security government laboratory where she works, lonely Elisa is trapped in a life of isolation. Elisa’s life is changed forever when she and co-worker Zelda discover a secret classified experiment.

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Guillermo Del Toro is one of the most visionary directors of our time. Whether he’s at the helm of a popcorn blockbuster like “Pacific Rim,” or he’s telling a more intimate story such as “Pan’s Labyrinth,” his eye for storytelling is special and unique. It’s impossible to deny the amount of care and attention to detail he pours into every project he tackles and “The Shape of Water” is the latest gem to prove it.

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Del Toro conjures up one of the most awe-inspiring films all year. The use of cold colors in nearly every scene paint a beautiful atmosphere that matches the time this story is set in. However, there’s also a timeless quality as the themes and personal journeys the characters go on feel just as relevant today as they would be in the Cold War era. As magical as this film can get, it never compromises the deep impact of the narrative.

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The role of Elisa, a mute character, was specifically written for Sally Hawkins and her nuanced performance is absolutely riveting. Without having the ability to speak a single word throughout the entire film, she’s able to eloquently express the feelings of admiration, fear, desire, and many other complex emotions in ways that are rarely seen from performers who have the entire dictionary at their disposal. It’s abundantly clear that no other actor could act in this role with as much confidence and elegance as Hawkins.

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Del Toro is known for wanting to do practical effects as much as he can on all of his films. Here, rather than use motion-capture to bring the Amphibian Man to life, Doug Jones was in a richly detailed suit that has instantly become one of the great creature designs in a Del Toro film. Jones completely disappears into the character, captivating the audience at every moment. It’s a truly remarkable creation unlike any other. And no, he’s nothing like Abe Sapien from the “Hellboy” films.

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The rest of the ensemble cast is exceptional. Octavia Spencer provides great comedic relief while serving the story when needed. The always delightful Michael Stuhlbarg, who just knocked it out of the park in this year’s “Call Me By Your Name,” continues to shine with admittedly limited screentime. Michael Shannon once again brings a strong, intimidating presence to a truly despicable character that surprisingly isn’t without sympathetic moments of his own. Standing out above everyone else is Richard Jenkins, who gives a warm, subdued performance that just might be the beating heart of the picture.

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It goes without saying that “The Shape of Water” is a visual marvel. The cinematography is stunning right from the first frame, giving a magical quality to the entire film. This is beautifully matched with Alexandre Desplat’s enchanting score that has some of the most memorable, gorgeous tunes in any motion picture in 2017. The production design is also a wonder to behold as each location feels alive. On a personal note, seeing this at the Elgin Theatre at TIFF where portions of the film were shot in was one of the most incredible experiences I’ve had watching a movie.

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At its core, this is a story about love. While it can be difficult to comprehend why Elisa loves this Amphibian Man as much as she does and that might hold back some audience members from fully appreciating this movie, love doesn’t always make sense. You don’t need others to understand the emotions you feel. Not everybody loves the same way, but everybody knows what it’s like to feel lonely and empty when without love. That is where this film connects to the soul. “The Shape of Water” is arguably Guillermo Del Toro at his most passionate.

4.5/5

Have you seen “The Shape of Water?” Where does it rank for you among the rest of Guillermo Del Toro’s films? Let me know your thoughts with a comment.

If you want to stay updated with all my reviews of films as soon as I see them, follow me on my Letterboxd.

Thanks for reading!

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