THE SHAPE OF WATER Review
Guillermo Del Toro has a deep seeded love for the monster. He is intrigued at what lies behind the terrifying persona and wants audiences to share his appreciation for the creatures in our nightmares. He’s done so with the superhero film (‘Hellboy’), the fantasy/coming-of-age (‘Pan’s Labyrinth’) and now, Del Toro presents a touching and heartfelt romance film about a mute woman and a fish-creature.
‘The Shape of Water’ follows Eliza’s (Sally Hawkins) blossoming relationship with an amphibian-humanoid that is wide-eyed and played by Doug Jones. Let’s call him, Abe. The story of a woman living in the 60s, Cold War America falling in love with a being abused out of fear seems quite apt, today. The beauty of Del Toro’s story is how timeless it is; two unique individuals who are oppressed by the power-holders find hope and joy within each other.
For all the awards buzz (and 13 Oscar Nominations), ‘The Shape of Water’ doesn’t hold the gravitas of other nominated films to be a contender for winning certain awards. The supporting cast, (Octavia Spencer and Richard Jenkins) offer the levity and ‘grounded’ perspective the film needs. Nothing to phone home about, honestly. Michael Shannon however, like always, brings menace and an imposing presence as the film’s villain. His Southern drawl hooks audiences as hatred boils behind his eyes. As a white, male living in the 1960s America with the typical Nuclear family and holding a powerful position in a governmental body, which he abuses, Shannon’s character is topical upon the release of the film.
One aspect of the film that it is deserving of recognition is Sally Hawkins’ performance as Eliza, the mute janitor. Hawkins is emotional, without overacting. She is the crux of the entire film and carries it to believability. Her and Abe’s relationship is the entire premise of the film. Let’s be honest, a story of a woman falling in love with a humanoid-fish is not easily accessible (even in these liberally advancing times). The problem then is to convince audiences of the ‘realism’ of the relationship through emotional performances. Since Doug Jones is cacked in make-up and prosthetics, to visually intricate and (in typical Del Toro fashion), beautifully haunting effect, it is left to Hawkins to carry the audience and the core of the relationship. Hawkins does so with the deftness and craft of a master.
Alexander Desplat’s score matches the central story’s blossoming romance. However, it feels more suitable for a Woody Allen film or a French romance film. Here it heightens the beauty of the bestiality, but is jarring with the tense moments.
Del Toro has been showered with awards as a result of his consistently brilliant directing. For ‘The Shape of Water’ however, it doesn’t feel earned for this film. The visuals are (as always) stylish and gothic, ‘Abe’s’ design is a testament of Del Toro’s view of monsters as misunderstood creatures. The story however, is unoriginal in its forbidden lover’s concept and is predictable and devoid of tension.
‘The Shape of Water’ is warm, heartfelt, surprisingly feel-good film that is carried by the strength of Sally Hawkins Oscar worthy performance. It’s a shame the rest of the film doesn’t approach that quality.