HOLLYWOOD—Director Guillermo del Toro is responsible for some amazing films during his career like “Pan’s Labyrinth,” “Hellboy” and “Pacific Rim.” I actually first heard of the director from a little known sci-fi flick he directed in 1997 starring Mira Sorvino, it was called “Mimic” (still one of my favorites till this day). His latest outing, “The Shape of Water” is unlike anything I’ve actually seen in the cinematic universe and that is a special feat in itself. Why? This is a movie that forces the viewer to suspend the notion of reality a bit to truly appreciate what is taking place.
“The Shape of Water” takes place in a time period where something like this could only transpire, in the 1960s post, World War II and the midst of the Cold War. It stars Sally Hawkins as Elisa Esposito, a mute woman who works as a janitor at the Occam Aerospace Research Center in Baltimore, Maryland. It is here where odd experiments are taking place and a new ‘creature’ has arrived that is a prized possession for Colonel Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon). Shannon is perhaps one of the most underrated actors in the present who has continued to deliver astonishing work for years, and he does the same here as the leader of the research team studying the creature.
Drawing the viewer more into the tale is Elisa’s relationship with Zelda (Octavia Spencer), who interprets American Sign Language (ASL) for her pal and her relationship with her neighbor Gilles (Richard Jenkins), who is gay, but has not yet divulge that news to the rest of the world. Spencer delivers another Oscar-worthy performance, as does Jenkins. However, it is Hawkins who really steals the show here without uttering a single word the entire film. That is no easy task to accomplish people, and Hawkins does it with the slightest facial expressions, but ones that deliver a range of emotions including pure fear and hope that she displays with confidence utilizing the muscles in her face.
Elisa finds herse;f attracted to this odd creature portrayed by Doug Jones. Let me point this out now, “The Shape of Water” is not a horror film, it’s not really a sci-fi movie; it’s actually a romance, a love story between two people who many people don’t understand, but they understand one another. There are some things in the movie that take a moment to digest like Elisa’s love for hard-boiled eggs and her usage of a timer for things you might not expect. After being introduced to our primary players, the bulk of the narrative revolves around Elisa and the Amphibian Man’s growing relationship and her desire to save him from being euthanized for research.
Del Toro takes some bold risks with this film including an intimate scene between Elisa and the creature, which is somewhat uncomfortable to watch, but as a viewer because you know these characters you kind of appreciate what is unfolding on the screen. What you see happening makes sense, and as a cinema lover you appreciate the artistry put into the movie to watch this love tale unfold. This includes the good and the bad, and this is a film that to be honest would not work if it was helmed by anyone else than Del Toro. He brings a level of patience, visual beauty and interesting characters that the audience is invited to learn what makes them tick, what they fear and what they hope for.
“The Shape of Water” is being heralded as an awards favorite, and the movie deserves all the accolades and so much more. However, enter the theater with an open-mind because if you’re able to suspend reality you will appreciate all the beauty this movie delivers.