Director: Guillermo Del Toro
Release: 10 October 2017 (London Film Festival), 16 February 2018
From: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Format: Theatrical Release
Age Rating: 15
Guillermo del Toro is a fascinating filmmaker. He can take an ordinary story and make it extraordinary and his unique way of looking at things gives him the chance to make some truly stunning masterpieces, and his new film The Shape of Water continues this trend. Set in the height of the Space Race between America and the USSR, the story focuses on an intricately sweet love story between a mute woman and an amphibian man. Yes, you read that correctly, an amphibian man.
Elisa (Sally Hawkins) works as a cleaner for a government facility, her life is dominated by routines — wake up, make breakfast, visit her mild-mannered neighbour Giles (Richard Jenkins), travel to work, clean the labs with her chatty co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer), punch out, and then doing it all over again the next day. It’s repetitive and tedious for her, but when head scientist Dr Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlburg) and the ruthless Colonel Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon) bring in a creature they name “The Assest” (Doug Jones) Elisa finds her life start to change.
She’s instantly drawn to the being, with his blue and green scales and fish-like eyes, and she starts to give him food and teach him sign language. They become friends and, over time, she finds she’s fallen in love with him. So, when she discovers that Colonel Strickland wants to kill and dissect him, she is determined to act. Del Toro takes what could be considered a conventional romance and turns it on its head, in a similar vein to Amelie this is sweet story of two characters drawn to each other despite their differences, although this one features fish scales.
It’s equal parts love story, spy thriller, and underdog tale and del Toro puts his own spin on things to create an intriguing narrative. Sally Hawkins dominates as the mute lead character, she expresses herself so clearly even without speaking and her performance is laced with such nuanced emotions that it’s hard not to love her and support her every step of her journey. “The Asset” is also fascinating, the design harks back to del Toro’s previous creations in films like Pan’s Labyrinth. He uses an intricately detailed and captivating design for the character, and Doug Jones’ performance makes it seem both terrifying and beautiful at the same time.
The Shape of Water is an emotionally absorbing film, and with Sally Hawkins brilliant performance and del Toro’s stunningly creative visuals it proves to be a great story. This may seem like a different story for him to tackle but it works so well, it showcases his distinct style of filmmaking and, while more sentimental than his previous work, is just as captivating. It’s a great new chapter for the innovative director, and we can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.
Review by Roxy Simons