The Shape of Water (2017) – Film Review

Without question one of my favourite films from director Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy, Pacific Rim, Crimson Peak), ‘The Shape of Water’ is for sure not a film that everyone will enjoy, but for those who do, this strange story of a woman falling in love with an other-worldly fish creature inspired by the horror classic: ‘Creature from the Black Lagoon,’ will truly push visuals and storytelling to their limits. Combining some outstanding cinematography with stunning make-up effects and plenty of absorbing performances from Sally Hawkins, Doug Jones and Michael Shannon, all equalling to one truly incredible cinematic experience.

Plot Summary: In the midst of the 1960s, inside a high-security government facility, a lonely cleaner named: ‘Elisa’ is trapped in a life of silence and isolation, stuck in a familiar and mundane routine. But when the facility she works within captures a mysterious fish creature in order to study its unique physiology, ‘Elisa’s life changes forever as she becomes more and more attached to the creature…

‘The Shape of Water’ is undoubtedly a Guillermo del Toro film through and through, as with another director at the helm, I could definitely see this film not working, as the completely bazaar plot is no doubt an instant turn-off for some viewers. But del Toro truly brings his ‘A’ game here, bringing every inch of his creativity and passion to the film. And as such, the film is an absolute pleasure to watch from beginning-to-end, which is even more impressive considering both of the film’s protagonists, a.k.a. ‘Elisa’ and ‘The Amphibian Man,’ are completely mute for the entirety of the runtime. In fact, one of Octavia Spencer’s favourite things about the film was that by the main couple being mute, most of the dialogue comes from a black woman and a closeted gay man, who would’ve both experienced real oppression during the 1960s setting of the film.

Despite actor Doug Jones being in heavy make-up prosthetics to portray ‘The Amphibian Man’ for all his screen-time, he actually is able to invoke a variety of emotions, and shares plenty of chemistry with his co-star Sally Hawkins as ‘Elisa,’ with the supporting cast of Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Octavia Spencer and Lauren Lee Smith also being surprisingly excellent given their character’s limited time on-screen. As well as the marvellous cast, the writing throughout the film is also fantastic, as del Toro writes the screenplay almost like poetry. Forming a romantic bond between the two main protagonists as the film progresses, all the while integrating plenty of social commentary on the time-period, backing-up the film’s main theme of what makes us different, whether that be because we are deaf, blind or possibly, not even human, which I personally found very compelling.

The phenomenal cinematography by Dan Laustsen elevates ‘The Shape of Water’ drastically, which contains an unbelievable amount of beautiful shots throughout the narrative, with the film’s dark blue/green colour palette only helping to add to the film’s visuals. Furthermore, many shots within the film play into aspects of various characters, most notably, ‘Elisa’s isolated life, displaying the facility where she works as a cold, dirty and segregating place.

Additionally, ‘The Shape of Water’ adds another remarkable score to composer Alexandre Desplat’s already-overflowing catalogue of work, as this unusually-beautiful romantic score with an almost French-esque feel, is very impactful in many moments throughout the film. Particularly with the opening scene however, as the opening shot glides slowly through a flooded room set to the my personal favourite track of the film: ‘The Shape of Water,’ preparing the viewer for the strange story that lies ahead. Desplat also provided recordings of his own whistling to be featured in the soundtrack, as del Toro wanted the score to feature whistling so it could contrast with the film’s many scenes that feature water.

One of my personal favourite elements of the film is definitely the make-up and prosthetics, as every second of screen-time we get with ‘The Amphibian Man’ the make-up effects look completely flawless, with many aspects of the strange and original design being inspired by real animals. Which is nothing new to this director however, as del Toro has always been known for creating incredible creatures of dark fantasy, such as in ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ and the ‘Hellboy’ series. Although used less than what many may initially think, the CGI throughout the film is also very effective, amplifying many of the small effects around the creature rather than distracting from (or overpowering) them.

In conclusion, I honestly believe ‘The Shape of Water’ may be one of my all-time favourite films, and certainly one of favourite films of 2017, as the relationship between the two protagonists and the journey their relationship represents is truly memorising from start-to-finish. Backed-up by some amazing cinematography, a great original score as well as the make-up and CG effects, whilst perhaps not a film for every cinephile, it is an extremely well-made film regardless, and one that I would surely recommend. Final Rating: 9/10.

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