The Shape of Water is Guillermo del Toro at his unrivalled best once again as he has magnificently crafted this fantastical, wonderful, heavily stylised world and the truly mesmerising and magical love story within it. This is a love story for the ages, it rides the line between foreign and familiar and explores this very “human” relationship deeper and better than most other human relationships in film. Set in 1962 America during the Cold War era, the film follows Elisa (Sally Hawkins) who lives a relatively quiet life but one day comes across an amphibian creature with whom she shares a unique bond. There is not a moment of this movie that I was not completely in love with, every scene is lined with del Toro’s soft and subtle gothic flavour to where you can see the level of care he put into this project. The movie is a fantasy / gothic romance / drama with a spy espionage backdrop that balances all of its tones insanely well and remains entirely focused on one thing for its entire runtime.
I really don’t want to speak too deeply about the plot because it really is an incredible story that takes so many turns that at no point do you know which way it’s going to go. But at the same time, at no point are you even thinking of where it is heading because the story locks you in to what is happening on screen at every individual moment. The pacing stays consistent for the majority of the movie and never once slows down, rather as time goes on the pace increases creating a heightened sense of suspense but never to the point of losing its focus. This is at its core a romance film, the love story is at the centre of everything going on to where each and every subplot is intricately linked and in the end gives you a fulfilling sense that nothing in here is wasted. The characters that make up this world are every bit as interesting and entertaining to watch as each-other. Of all of the main and secondary characters I felt like everyone had an important part to play and wasn’t just there to provide some filler scenes.
And when it comes to the performances, there is almost no doubt that Sally Hawkins is the clear standout as she is unbelievably phenomenal from beginning to end. She does an incredible amount without uttering a single word and puts in an absolutely touching and memorable performance. She manages to convey a whole range of emotions through her facial expressions, hand gestures, and body language alone, and you know exactly what she is thinking and feeling at all times because of that. I haven’t seen all of the other talked about award worthy performances from this year just yet, but at this point for me at least Sally Hawkins is a shoe-in for Best Actress. As great as Sally is, she isn’t the only Oscar-worthy performance in here by a mile. Octavia Spencer is great as always and plays Elisa’s friend Zelda with whom she exhibits plenty of chemistry and has a number of meaningful moments. Richard Jenkins who plays Elisa’s neighbour is fantastic and is such an uplifting part of this story. But Michael Shannon time and time again is astounding in his roles and that is no different here as he plays the villain of the story and does so very well. He plays this character who is a dick and is maniacal but there’s reasoning behind his behaviour and that makes for a great villain who you can be entertained in watching. I wouldn’t be surprised if all of these performers showed up in the Academy Awards nominations this year.
On a technical level too this movie excels beyond many others that have released this year. Del Toro’s dark gothic fantasy style is visualised stunningly here through Dan Laustsen’s magical cinematography that presents this world like a well crafted painting. There are a number of awe-inspiring beautiful shots that made me want to stop and admire them for a number of minutes. This isn’t a large scale story and the way it is shot and presented creates many alluring intimate moments between characters that make you feel like it’s a big fantastical story. There is even one unique sequence that occurs very naturally, is unique in its style compared to the rest of the film, and a moment so wonderful that it should be experienced for the first time on the screen. And then you have the presence of the soundtrack and Alexandre Desplat’s score which are deep and emotional and set the sombre or uplifting tone of each scene perfectly. Every piece of music is unique and representative of the events happening on screen to when you hear certain tunes now it will remind you of a character or key event in the film.
So in the end, Guillermo del Toro has come off of Crimson Peak (2015) which I enjoyed but wasn’t universally loved and delivered a well orchestrated project that will no doubt make a splash (pun intended) this awards season. The story is fantastic, the performances are incredible, and it’s a film I will no doubt be seeing again in the future. If you are a fan of del Toro’s work or if you are a fan of romantic dramas in a fantasy world then I’d say definitely check this one out. If I had seen this movie prior to making my favourite films of the year list, this would be #2.