The Shape of Water follows Elisa (Sally Hawkins), a mute janitor who works alongside Zelda (Octavia Spencer) in a top-secret research facility. One day, Elisa meets a unique sea creature (Doug Jones) brought in by a ruthless government agent, Strickland (Michael Shannon) for experiment purposes. She begins befriending the sea creature and eventually devising a plan to save him from captivity.
Love happens when you are least expecting it. Even no matter how bizarre it turns out to be. Guillermo del Toro’s latest movie in The Shape of Water certainly fits the bill. From the surreal underwater scene coupled with Alexandre Desplat’s elegant score, The Shape of Water transports the viewers immediately with Richard Jenkins’ storybook-like voiceover narration that set the dreamy tone of the movie:
If I spoke about it. If I did. What would I tell you?
It gets better from there, starting with the introduction of Sally Hawkins leading the role as the mute Elisa. Her performance is particularly absorbing, thoughtful and above all, sympathetic enough to root for her. When she starts making acquaintance with the sea creature a.k.a. “The Asset” in the secret lab, del Toro, who also co-wrote the screenplay alongside Vanessa Taylor, explores more than just a wonderful friendship between the human and the creature. As the movie progresses further, we learn that Elisa subsequently falls in love with the sea creature. Here is where del Toro excels the most: he manages to make the unlikely romance between Elisa and the sea creature as convincing as a 1960s classic love story. If you look beyond the fantastical elements, Elisa and the sea creature are basically two lonely hearts who fall for each other due to their mutual affection and understanding.
But The Shape of Water is more than an adult’s fairy tale filled with romance and sexuality. The movie also benefits from del Toro and Taylor’s engrossing screenplay that touches on the Cold War paranoia as well as racial discrimination and gender inequality. A taboo element of homosexuality is touched upon as well, albeit briefly but effective enough, as evidently seen from Jenkins’ quietly affecting portrayal of a struggling yet underappreciated artist torn between his dwindling career and his love life as a closeted individual. The rest of the supporting actors are equally top-notch, ranging from Octavia Spencer’s solid turn as Elisa’s best friend and co-worker to Michael Shannon’s pitch-perfect portrayal as the movie’s antagonist.
Technical credits are just as superb, with Dan Laustsen’s appropriately vintage-looking cinematography that captures both del Toro’s self-contained world and its old-fashioned era of the 1960s. As for the director himself, he even manages to slip in a few notable set-pieces including the elaborate escape sequence akin to watching a great heist movie. Guillermo del Toro doesn’t shy away from the graphic depiction of blood and violence that is made relevant, given its Cold War setting.
No doubt The Shape of Water is del Toro’s best movie to date since Pan’s Labyrinth and well-deserved to be nominated with a leading 13 Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress for Sally Hawkins alongside Best Supporting Actor for Richard Jenkins and Best Supporting Actress for Octavia Spencer.