The Shape of Water
Why should kids have all the fun with magic, myths and fairytales? Even movies meant for grown-ups, namely horror, are really meant for the children who snuck into the cinema. Does this mean adults are destined to live a drab existence, going through their lives without impossible fantasies? Not if Guillermo del Toro has anything to say about it.
Set in the early 60s, The Shape of Water follows Elisa (Sally Hawkins), a mute cleaning lady for a government laboratory near Baltimore. She’s a lonely person and has few friends, aside from her gay next-door neighbour Giles (Richard Jenkins) and her African-American cleaning-partner Zelda (Octavia Spencer). But when she encounters a new discovery by the scientists – a humanoid amphibian contained in a water-pod – she and the Creature begin to fall in love.
The film clashes many Hollywood genres together, demonstrating del Toro’s overwhelming love of cinema. He starts softly with Elisa and Giles enjoying black-and-white musicals on the TV, while living above a cinema showing biblical epics in Technicolor. Then comes the Amphibian Man, who resembles the creature in The Creature from the Black Lagoon, offering a B-movie horror tone – though the real monster is in the form of a domineering Colonel Strickland (Michael Shannon). It’s wrapped around a Cold War setting, with the sub-plot following a Russian spy (Michael Stuhlberg), unfolding like a 50s film noir, subsequently turning into a prison-break movie. The picture even poignantly dips its toes into the musical. But this is a romance, through and through. The relationship between Elisa and the Creature sounds like a specific porn fetish, but del Toro has made The Shape of Water into a beautiful and sometimes heart-rending love story.
Hawkins is more than deserving of her Oscar nomination, and her (literally) speechless performance returns the viewer to the pretty silent pictures of old. If the notion of “pure cinema” still exists, it’s steaming from the romantic moments between Hawkins and the Creature – with Dan Laustsen’s emotionally staggering visuals, motivated only by gesture and movement. Never has the dictum Show, Don’t Tell been so elegantly expressed.
The Shape of Water is a violent, sexy, beautiful fairytale for adults that reinvigorates the magic of movies. It also resonates with current times, primarily through Michael Shannon’s racist, power-crazy and misogynistic villain – perfect for the post-Weinstein era. But, more than anything, del Toro has allowed grown-ups to dream again.
The Shape of Water nationwide on 14th February 2018.
Watch the trailer for The Shape of Water here: