“The Shape of Water” Is del Toro’s Marvelous Tribute To Old Hollywood

By Scott Kurland

Film: The Shape Of Water

Starring: Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Octavia Spencer, Michael Stuhlbarg, and Doug Jones

Rated R

Director: Guillermo del Toro

There are some directors whose love and admiration for cinema pushes the medium into previously unexplored territory. Sometimes journeys such as these are met with disaster (Ed Wood springs to mind), while others breath life into new genres. Tarantino infused his love for Grindhouse cinema into award-winning films. Edgar Wright fills his audience's eyes and ears with references to American and British pop culture. As for Guillermo del Toro, his films are a dark, luscious fairy tales where monsters of every shape and size dwell. “Pans Labyrinth,” "Devils Backbone and "Chronos" serve as  ideal examples of del-Toro's remarkable ability to weave fantasy into period pieces. Still, after dusting away the cobwebs of “Crimson Peak, ” I was immediately wary when I heard that “The Shape Of Water” had been greenlit. That all changed with the arrival of the trailer; at which point I was shouting “TAKE MY MONEY NOW,” to the screen. This week’s films is indeed “The Shape Of Water.” Did this film live up to my high expectations? Let’s find out shall we?

Sally Hawkins stars as Elisa, a mute woman living a lonely life in Baltimore. Elisa's life is ruled by routine; one which consists of working the night shift at a secret laboratory alongside her best friend Zelda (Octavia Spencer), sharing a meal with her neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins), then swiftly returning to bed (or in her case a divan). Comfort is quickly replaced with chaos however when the lab receives a donation in the form of a mysterious amphibian man (Doug Jones) courtesy of Strickland (Michael Shannon), the facility's newest Chief of Security. To Strickland, the creature is an abomination, to Elisa however, he is a kindred spirit. When she learns what the U.S. Government has planned for her new friend, she decides to take matters into her own hands and help the creature escape. Can Elisa and the creature make it to safety before its too late or will Strickland catch them in the act?

    I love this film! Its a gorgeous and wonderful homage to old Hollywood monster movies. Yet, as always, del Toro incorporates one major twist. "The Shape of Water" is not a true monster movie. It’s a love story...with a monster in it. This is del Toro’s best film to date. It seems that what he accomplished with “Cronos,” “The Devil’s Backbone,” and “Pan’s Labyrinth” were just the blue prints for “The Shape Of Water.” The most endearing things about this film are, of course, the script as well as the production design. It’s one thing to have a great backdrop and no story (often seen in films under the direction of Baz Luhrman and, well... Baz Luhrman ). It’s another thing to have a great script played out in an ordinary setting such as in Richard Linklater’s “Before Trilogy” or Kevin Smith’s “Chasing Amy.” But to have such a stunning production design (one that screams 1930's horror) and have a script that touches on politics, human rights, and the agony of solitude...well, honestly that’s just impressive for any filmmaker. I found myself leaving the theater in a state of absolute awe over what I had just witnessed. Del Toro made a monster movie and cast it in a light reminiscent of “Chocolat” or “Amelie.” I hope his efforts pay off come award time and  he sweeps in the Best Director category.

You can’t have a great film without an even better cast and "The Shape of Water" is filled to the brim with talent. For del Toro to make his two leads mute is a ballsy move. At least, that's what I’d normally say if these two leads were played by any other actors. First, you have Sally Hawkins who is one of my favorite actors of all time. Every character she plays is the embodiment of optimism and love. Elisa is no exception, Hawkins says more with her eyes and expressions than most could with a monologue. Hawkins has been around for years, in films like Mike Leigh’s “Happy-Go-Lucky” and as Paddington’s adoptive mother in the “Paddington” films. Here she is an absolutely revelation. Elisa is stronger, braver, and more ambitious than any hero we’ve seen in the Marvel movies and its all because of who plays her. 

      Doug Jones is the other lead as the Amphibian Man and, chances are, you’ve probably never seen his face. Jones is the master of make-up. He was Billy the Zombie in “Hocus Pocus,” Abe Sapien in the “Hellboy” movies and virtually every creature in “Pan’s Labyrinth.” Jones, like Hawkins, says so much with mere gestures and movements. It’s kind of upsetting that Hollywood probably will pass this performance up come award time. The excuse that you can’t see the actor will be tossed around. I say that if an actor is truly gifted, then you don’t need to see their face or hear their voice.

                “The Shape Of Water” is easily one of the best films of 2017. It’s dark, funny, sweet, scary, and very romantic. I know either Michael Shannon or Richard Jenkins will be nominated; as will Hawkins. This is the type of movie that reminds you why you still take that trip to the theater. It also shows you what a talented director can achieve when the studio trusts them enough to bring their fully realized vision to the screen. See “The Shape Of Water"-if you’re an adult. After all, this is a graphic movie with violence and nudity. Still, if you’re of age see this movie than it is well worth several viewings. I promise you won’t be disappointed.


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