Movie Review: The Shape of Water
Director: Guillermo del Toro
by Jason Koenigsberg
Visionary Guillermo del Toro has long specialized in making fantasy fables for adults with movies like The Devil’s Backbone (2001) and Pan’s Labyrinth (2006). Even his big blockbuster productions like Blade 2 (2002) and Pacific Rim (2013) fall into that category as movies that do as much for our imagination as they do our instant gratification for an action packed extravaganza. The Shape of Water is his deepest foray into making a romantic movie and it is certainly an unconventional romance between very misfit characters as well as a love letter to the movies themselves. The Shape of Water is pure Guillermo del Toro combining elements from Beauty and the Beast, Romeo and Juliet, The Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954), Amelie (2001), Swamp Thing (1982) and creates something that feels unique and powerful and fits right in with his filmography. A Cold War fairy tale about a princess, a monster and the even more vile human monsters that try to tear them apart.
The opening shot is small green bubbles underwater, then the camera moves into an underwater hallway accompanied by Richard Jenkins narration. Green is a pertinent color for the cinematography, sets, and costumes with intricate details and clues in each shot. The various shades of green are so appropriate and blatant, it almost becomes to obvious, but all the colors add to the fantasy element of the story. Eggs are a recurring motif between the main characters symbolic of their sexual undertones. Sally Hawkins is terrific as always playing a mute cleaning lady who works alongside Octavia Spencer in a secret military facility. The US government has a sea creature held captive that looks eerily similar to the actual Creature from the Black Lagoon. In many ways this The Shape of Water felt like a spiritual sequel to The Creature from the Black Lagoon or at least a continuation of the story posing what would have happened if the creature was captured after the events in the original movie. All of the performances are excellent especially Michael Shannon as the ruthless government official keeping the creature locked up and Sally Hawkins who gives her bravest performance yet. She was Oscar worthy in Happy Go Lucky (2008) and Blue Jasmine (2013), it will be an outrage if she is not nominated for her work in this movie.
The only real weakness to The Shape of Water is that it dragged a little bit in the middle. The second act felt slow and once the story found its emotional footing again for the third act, it lands the ending flawlessly. Guillermo del Toro throws a lot of bizarre visuals at us with unflinching violence, peculiar erotic and sexual images, and a go for broke black and white musical number that felt like it was from a classic Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers picture. All of those moments, especially the singing and dancing sequence will challenge and divide audiences. If the viewer is able to accept what is put in front of them, they will enjoy The Shape of Water.
This movie has a lot to say beyond just being an adult fairy tale about love. The Shape of Water is a poignant statement about working class women, especially African-American and handicapped women and their place on the social hierarchy in 1960’s America. At the same time it is very much a film of 2017 with a timely message about women being harassed and treated as inferiors in the workplace. Guillermo del Toro, a native of Mexico even had some very harsh opinions he interjected into The Shape of Water about the US government. He is very critical at our nations environmental policies and government practices, even going so far as to make one of the most sympathetic characters in the film a Russian spy.
Ultimately, The Shape of Water is a unique love story about lonely creatures longing for a connection. They long for love and companionship both physically and emotionally. The final shot brings back the Richard Jenkins narration and helps tie the visuals with the meaning of the title. This movie is not meant for everybody, but for those that enjoy being challenged and are willing to accept hauntingly grotesque yet simultaneously beautiful images will find The Shape of Water to be one of the years most moving pictures.