Saturday, December 23, 2017

[Review] The Shape of Water

Weird, wet, wild, and wonderful. The Shape of Water is a deeply majestic fairytale (an adult one) that would only come from the mind of visionary director Guillermo del Toro.

This story dives into the life of Elisa (Sally Hawkins), a woman who's been mute since she was an infant. She works a thankless nightshift job as a janitor at a secretive laboratory that happens to be cruelly researching an amphibious humanoid that looks a lot like the Creature from the Black Lagoon (or Abe Sapien from Hellboy, depending on who you ask -- he's played by Doug Jones). The gentle Elisa befriends the beast, and what unfolds is a strange, surreal, and sublime tale of love and loss.

As you'd expect with a del Toro film, the imagery is exquisite. With its Cold War Americana backdrop, stream of high-concept fantasy, and old-fashioned essence, the lush production design is like stepping into a whimsical museum from a dream. Glowy aqua blues and greens uniformly flood the color palette, while the nifty editing builds a steady flow (the art of the scene transition is strong here and shouldn't go unnoticed). The narrative punches in with the rhythm of a ticking clock or a heartbeat, and it eventually launches into exhilarating thriller mode, not unlike the "Lockjaw" episode of "Hey Arnold" where Arnold and his grandma free a tormented turtle from an aquarium.

Sally Hawkins (who was also superb in this year's Maudie) gives an absolutely ravishing lead performance. She's so expressive, so emotional, so convincing -- without uttering a single word. Her face says it all. This thing also contains a top-notch (and I mean top) supporting cast. Richard Jenkins greatly plays Elisa's friendly, closeted, repressed artist neighbor. The always pleasant Octavia Spencer clocks in as Elisa's best and funniest co-worker. Michael Stuhlbag (who might be in a total of 3(!) Best Picture nominees this year) is perfectly cast as a sympathetic scientist. And frequent scene-stealer Michael Shannon broods in classical villain form. The true monster, indeed.

The film definitely is filled with a melancholy undercurrent of social themes, but what shines through the most is Guillermo del Toro's obsessive ode to French and golden age Hollywood cinema, creature features, and outcasts. In the end, it becomes quite clear that The Shape of Water is love.

* 9.5/10 *

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  1. Can't wait to see this one. Opens here in a few weeks! If the reviews are anything to go by, this could be GDT's best yet. Great write-up :)