Much like its amphibious creature, The Shape of Water is hard to define. Revolving around the relationship between Elisa (a mute woman played by Sally Hawkins) and a laboratory-jailed monster (Doug Jones), it’s definitely fantastical in nature but the Cold War setting grounds del Toro’s narrative in some sort of reality while it continually flips between romance and espionage. Heck, there’s even a musical number thrown into its eclectic mishmash of genres. In so many ways, The Shape of Water is a film like no other.
The film’s production values are outstanding. From the outset, The Shape of Water has a rich visual tone that’s delightfully immersive; it wraps you tight and sucks you into the screen. Del Toro’s direction weaves the camera in and out of the visuals, enhancing the dismal fairytale nature of the plot. It’s cohesively dark and gloomy throughout but glistens and glows in all the right places.
At its core, The Shape of Water is about the meeting of two isolated souls who are similarly limited in their ability to communicate with the world. The creature is a meticulous creation with very unnerving eyes. It’s human enough for Elisa attraction to be believable but bizarre (and slimy) enough to cause alarm, to wonder what the hell she’s thinking. My criticisms of the piece stem from its structure. Very little focus is given to the development of the monster/human relationship. Through countless masturbation scenes, we clearly understand that Elisa is yearning for physical contact; we can see that she’s isolated, we understand logically why she’d fall for this creature, yet there is no time feel the emotional connection between the pair. Aside from swells of empathy instigated by Elisa’s desperation, The Shape of Water left me cold.
Del Toro and Vanessa Taylor’s screenplay is full of dark humour and does well to give even the more minor characters solid motivations. However, its jam-packed with gratuitous moments of gore and nudity that, on the whole, do little to forward the plot. The pacing is also a little off at times and there is a significant lull before the film races towards its finale.
Regardless, Sally Hawkins delivers an impeccable silent performance. She has an innately kind aura that immediately puts you on Elisa’s side but also manages to deliver the largest laughs (with the help of some conveniently placed subtitles) and conveys a deep sense of despair as the plot progresses. She’s supported by a strong ensemble of actors (Michael Shannon as a US Colonel who’s in charge of the monster, Octavia Spencer as Elisa’s colleague & Richard Jenkins as her neighbour) who are steadfast in their portrayals.
The Shape of Water is definitely a unique and interesting film that excels visually but I find it hard to rave about a movie that leaves me without emotion.
Overall, I give The Shape of Water a rating of 4/5.