The Shape Of Water is a 1960s fantasy drama, set in a US military base housing a top secret project, which takes interesting turns when a janitor forms a relationship with a creature being held at the base, the film stars Sally Hawkins, Octavia Spencer, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Doug Jones and Michael Stuhlbarg.
Visionary director Guillermo Del Toro does it again, crafting a film that is completely different from his last cinematic outing (Crimson Peak), though we’re again presented with a period drama, a bit more modern this time and set in the height of the cold war in 1960, as US forces have captured a humanoid like fish creature and plan to study it – for their own benefit of course, the premise intriguing and right from the offset, evokes a feeling of this being a modern fairytale.
This is in part helped with a somewhat unusual protagonist in the mute Elisa (Sally Hawkins) who communicates via sign language to those who can understand, Hawkins brings a spirited and dedicated performance to the role and her enthusiasm certainly brightens up an otherwise fairly darkly themed story. The performances are really what make the film overall, with Octavia Spencer being great as Zelda – Elias best friend and fellow janitor at the facility, speaking her mind and pointing out the obvious, sometimes to her detriment – which often relates to the fierce and forceful Richard (Michael Shannon) who is brilliant in this role, really emanating a sense of intimidation and menace that fairly few actors can achieve. And in terms of the actual amphibian man, the practical effects are really well done and Doug Jones really nails the vision of the physicality of a wild humanoid like fish, Jones isn’t new to this sort of character acting if you’re familiar with his work (he’s like the Andy Serkis of TV and film for costumed characters) and it shows, with his experience bringing some heft and believability to the character. And believability, you have to suspend some of it with this sort of premise of course, not just for the fish man existing but for Eliza falling in love with him, it’s a sort of mismatched, seemingly doomed to fail romance in the vein of Beauty and the beast but with a gritty, real world setting in the US in the height of the cold war which makes for an interesting dichotomy, with the added element of Russian KGB agents in the story who help to add tension to the plot.
The setting and set up quite reminds me of Del Toros arguably best film in Pans Labyrinth, with a fantastical element to the story – this time just existing in the real world as a matter of fact and if I was to bring up a criticism, certain characters lack of shock or surprise to the amphibian man may seem a bit unrealistic, almost as if it’s just another wacky experiment that in reality would completely freak people out. Also another element to point out is the soundtrack – which is fantastic, very well suited to the story and with some great albeit a tad out of the blue musical numbers that construe certain emotions that characters like Eliza may be feeling at points in the story.
Overall The Shape of Water is a good, engaging watch with strong performances, a great soundtrack and a well paced story that keeps you engaged, some elements are a bit unbelievable (even for a fantasy film) but not to the point of detracting from the film as a whole.
. Well done performances, Shannon and Hawkins are brilliant
. Engaging, simple plot with good pacing
. Some plot events may seem a bit unrealistic