THE SHAPE OF WATER, the latest film from visionary director Guillermo del Toro, is, at its core, a love story interwoven with moments of horror, prejudice, compassion and hope. The film stars Sally Hawkins (Godzilla), Michael Shannon (Midnight Special), Richard Jenkins (The Cabin in the Woods), Michael Stuhlbarg (A Serious Man), Doug Jones (Crimson’s Peak), and Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures).
The film, which takes place in America during the Cold War era, centers around Elisa (Hawkins), a lonely woman who works as a custodian at a high-security government laboratory. During one of her shifts, an unknown specimen (Jones) is brought into the room she is cleaning. As her fascination grows, an unlikely bond begins to grow between the creature and Elisa. However, the government being what it is, decides they want to dissect their new experiment to learn how they can use it to their own advantage, most notably at the hands of Richard Strickland (Shannon). Elisa, knowing her time is limited with the creature, does whatever it takes to make sure it’s safe before Strickland uses his power and violent tendencies to destroy what she has come to love.
It goes without saying that this film is absolutely beautiful. From the story, to the visuals, to the acting, and the set design – everything has a touch of artistry and surrealism that flows together in a way that makes sense and completes the story. Del Toro is a master at his craft and whether he’s doing a big budget film, such as Hellboy, or a smaller, more personal film, such as The Devil’s Backbone, he’s not afraid to take chances and pour his passion and vision into each and every project. THE SHAPE OF WATER is no different, and though it may not be as visually arresting as some of this earlier films, it’s still just as effective in drawing the audience in and playing on their heartstrings.
In regards to the acting, I have no qualms on any of the performances. Sally Hawkins, as Elisa, is breathtaking and heart wrenching as a mute woman who just want to be loved and looked at as normal. Doug Jones, who plays the Amphibian Man, is just as captivating as he is in any of his roles that he transforms himself into and it’s such a shame he doesn’t get more noticed because he’s truly such a talented actor. I’m a huge fan of Michael Shannon, so I was looking forward to seeing him in a Del Toro film, and he most certainly did not disappoint. You won’t love him, if anything you’ll come to hate him, but he does such a fantastic job in his portrayal of Richard Strickland that you can’t help but love to hate him. Lastly, Richard Jenkins, who plays Giles, and Octavia Spencer, who plays Zelda, are the friends that we all wished we had. Their kindness and acceptance towards Elisa showcases that just because someone is different from them doesn’t mean they deserve to be treated as if they are an outcast.
With that said, the real theme of the film focuses on how we treat others, especially when we don’t understand people who are peculiar of off-beat to what we are used too. I think a film such as this is important, especially with all that is going on in the world today. Acceptance is a concept that many people still seem to push aside and it’s upsetting to see humans treat other humans unfairly because they may look different, or believe in an opposing idea, or love someone that is unlike them. To see our main protagonist fall in love with an amphibian may seem shocking, but when we look past what he is, and see where his heart lies, than really, that’s all that matters. In the end, who are we to judge what people do with their lives? If we could all show a bit more compassion and understanding towards those that are different from us it would help in reducing prejudice and misunderstandings. Though this theme isn’t necessarily thrown in our face, it is crafted wonderfully and poignantly into the story between Elisa and the Amphibian Man and how Richard Strickland treats both of them.
Overall, THE SHAPE OF WATER is an exquisite tale of love, loss, and acceptance. It may not be scary, it may not be a classic horror film, but there are some elements of that, and bloodshed, intertwined within the story. Though I do like my Del Toro films to be more on the dark and macabre side, I still can appreciate just how magnificent his latest movie is. Do not go into this expecting a horror film, you won’t get that, but go in ready to experience a visually moving and emotional story that will stay with you long after it’s over.
THE SHAPE OF WATER opens in select theaters December 1st and nationwide December 8th.