a critiQal film review The Shape of Water (2017)

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

545 words (Est. Reading Time 2m 43s)
  • ...shockingly graphic, this story of fishy love is brilliant to watch, but may not appeal to everyone - or to repeated viewings.

Since it was Carmella’s turn to pick a movie, I didn’t quite know what to expect. Thankfully, she picked a movie that I had been wanting to see: The Shape of Water. With accolades being thrown at this film (4 Oscars, 4 Golden Globes, 2 Critics’ Choice Awards), I had wanted to see if this film could live up to the hype. Could Guillermo del Toro create another magical escape like he did in Pan’s Labyrinth, or were all these accolades just because they wanted him to?

Sally Hawkins is main character Elisa in The Shape of Water, and has several difficult assignments in this film. Not only is her character mute, she has to shed her clothes several times during the film. Surprisingly, while Sally Hawkins isn’t a big name, she delivers a remarkably deep performance as Elisa. Baring all for the camera (and the viewer), both body and soul, she brings her character to vibrant life.

The rest of the cast does a great job too. Doug Jones (who has played a fishman before, in Hellboy (2004)) is a smart choice for playing the fishman character in The Shape of Water, and does a good job with the role. Richard Jenkins is surprisingly good as the gay neighbor, and Michael Shannon (who is used to playing bad guys, including Zod in Man of Steel (2013)) is a thrill as the bad guy of the pic. Octavia Spencer and Michael Stuhlbarg are also smartly cast, with Octavia taking a bit of her role in The Help and turning in a quietly impressive performance as well.

The plot behind The Shape of Water can only be described as a bit odd. A cleaning lady falls for the secret experiment guy, who happens to be a fishman. While this could have gotten really disturbing really quickly, Guillermo manages to create a film that runs more like an adult fairy tale (a la Shyamalan’s Lady In The Water (2006)). Shocking the viewer with nudity and self-pleasuring right from the start, the film gets off to a shaky beginning. But, as the friendship (and more) develop between Elisa and the fishman, The Shape of Water becomes more of a fantasy romance pic than it’s surprisingly blunt beginning seems to warrant.

The special effects in The Shape of Water are fantastic. From the beginning sequence that showcases an apartment underwater, to the varying sets throughout the film, there is a definite vision behind this film, and the special effects just help to enhance that. True, they could have made Doug Jones’ fishman costume a bit more different than his previous turn in Hellboy (2004), but maybe (since they are both directed by Guillermo del Toro), creating such a similar creature costume could have been intentional.

With a solid cast performing at their best, and Guillermo del Toro’s vision replicated brilliantly through sets, lighting and his own directing, it’s easy to see why The Shape of Water won over the critics this past season. Still, with its graphic nudity and shocking displays, plus its quirky story of fishman love, there may be some viewers who won’t quite see the vision behind it.

Definitely a must-see, but repeated viewings might not be in the cards. And when you do watch it, make sure the kiddos aren’t in the room.

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