HOLLYWOOD—You have to go into a Guillermo del Toro film knowing you’re getting something different, and different “The Shape of Water” is. Different and stunning.
Part 50s noir, part spy thriller, the film is an ode to and inversion of old school horror movies. A splendid love story, the plot centers on Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins). Elisa lives a boring, frustrating, yet somewhat happy life with her next-door neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins) and friend Zelda Fuller (Octavia Spencer). After the shady, cattle prod wielding Colonel Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon) brings an aquatic monster to the research lab Elisa makes a connection to, whom she resolves to save.
In a year of wonderful cinematography, “The Shape of Water” stands out. Vibrant colors are a hallmark of the film. The hues of a sunset, the greenish blue tint of water, bright neon lights, they all give a beautiful, dreamy quality to the film. The colors make one feel the hope and intoxication of the romance.
It would be just if Del Toro wins Best Director. The film maintains a good pace. You are quickly drawn in, but it never feels rushed. A hallmark of masterful directing and screenwriting.
The movie is a surreal romance. It has elements of a thriller, some unexpectedly hilarious comedy, and a dash of the spy and horror genres. If one were to pitch the idea in two sentences it would no doubt raise some skeptical eyebrows.
It works though. Everything here feels familiar, yet different, better. Del Toro has elevated the genres he’s paying homage to. The 50s spy and noir drama, the forbidden romance, we get a unique twist here.
It’s as if we are getting the best of the old school monster movies in the twenty-teens. The genre’s tropes and assumptions are wonderfully inverted. The monster and his love scenes with Elisa are beautiful. It’s Shannon’s character and his bizarre sex scene that becomes something grotesque.
The acting is tremendous. Sally Hawkins gives an outstanding performance in an extremely difficult role, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see her net the Oscar for it. Michael Shannon is of course stunning in his role as the villain, and Octavia Spencer has not deviated here from her stream of terrific roles. Jenkins performance hasn’t gotten the praise its deserved. Ditto for Michael Stuhlbarg’s role as Dr. Robert Hoffstetler.
This year we saw a lot of filmmakers take risks and elevate well-worn genres. Christopher Nolan did it when he made “Dunkirk,” an inimitable escape picture unlike the epic war films of old. Greta Gerwig gave us a hilarious, expert, classic take on the coming of age story with “Lady Bird.” Amongst these and other standouts is where “The Shape of Water” firmly sits.
It’s different, it’s gorgeous, it’s one of 2017’s best, and it’s not one to be missed.