Without question one of my favourite films from director Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy, Pacific Rim, Crimson Peak), this strange story of a woman falling in love with an other-worldly fish creature really pushes the limits on both attractive visuals and storytelling. Combing outstanding some cinematography and great make-up effects alongside some memorable performances by Sally Hawkins and Doug Jones, with Michael Shannon also stepping-in as the menacing antagonist. For one truly incredible cinematic experience.
Set against the backdrop of Cold War-era America in 1963. Inside a hidden high-security government laboratory where she works, lonely ‘Elisa’ is trapped in a life of silence and isolation. But ‘Elisa’s life is soon changed forever when she and her co-worker: ‘Zelda’ discover a secret classified experiment lurking behind large closed-doors.
This completely bazaar plot is no doubt an instant turn-off for some people, but I personally feel director Guillermo del Toro truly brings all his charm and passion to this project. As the film is an absolute pleasure to watch from beginning-to-end, which is even more impressive considering both of the film’s protagonists: ‘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 screenplay was the fact that, by letting the main couple be mute, most of the dialogue comes from a black woman and a closeted gay man. Who in real-life, would both have experienced 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.
Alongside the phenomenal cinematography by Dan Laustsen, which contains an enormous amount of beautiful shots throughout the narrative (with the dark blue colour palette also helping to add to the film’s visuals). In addition to this, the wonderful original score by Alexandre Desplat also adds another outstanding soundtrack to his already overflowing catalogue. As this beautiful (yet unusual) romantic score with an almost French-like tone, is very impactful in many moments throughout the film. In particular 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.
As well as the marvellous cast, the writing throughout the film is also fantastic, as del Toro writes the script almost like poetry at points. Forming a romantic bond between the two main protagonists as the film progresses, alongside this the film has plenty of subtle commentary on the time-period, backing-up the film’s overall theme of the things that make us different, whether that be because we are deaf, blind, or possibly even some kind of weird fish-creature, which I personally found very compelling.
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 used very effectivity, amplifying many of the effects around the creature rather than distracting from them. On my initial watch, I also couldn’t help but think that this is definitely a Guillermo del Toro film through and through, as with another director at the helm, I could definitely see this film not working, but del Toro truly brings his ‘A’ game here.
I honestly believe ‘The Shape of Water’ may be one of my all-time favourite films, and definitely one of favourite modern films. As the relationship between the two protagonists and the journey they go on is memorizing from start-to-finish. Backed-up by some amazing cinematography, a great original score as well as the make-up and CG effects, the film is easily a 9/10 for me. Whilst perhaps not a film for everyone, it’s an extremely well-made film regardless.