Today: February 21, 2024

The Shape Of Water

The Shape Of Water director Guillermo del Toro is often cited as a ‘horror’ filmmaker. But to label him as such is an oversight. Yes, for much of his career he has used horror as a device to articulate his unique aesthetic and outlook on the world. But for the most part del Toro is more interested in telling fairy tales. Fairy tales in the trusest, Brothers Grimm sense of the term. Complete with violence, destruction, darkness but always gilded with a ray of hope. An adult Tim Burton if you will.

Like his other masterpiece Pan’s Labyrinth The Shape Of Water takes us into a familiar world and puts a uniquely del Toro spin on it. Part Beauty and The Beast, part Amelie meets The Creature From The Black Lagoon, a film del Toro has cited as among his favourite of all time, The Shape Of Water is a beautifully immersive and topical fairy tale.

Working as a cleaner at a military facility, mute Elisa (Sally Hawkins) leads a life on the outside. But she has friends on the outside with her. Neighbour Giles (Richard Jenkins) secretly hides his sexuality while best friend Zelda (Octavia Spencer) must live a life in a racist America in which she is still treated as a second tier citizen. When Elisa encounters an amphibian man (Doug Jones) in one of the labs she soon sparks up a friendship. But head of security Strickland (Michael Shannon) believes that killing the amphibian will help the US win the Space Race and in turn the Cold War.

The Shape Of Water, despite its 1960s setting, feels incredibly relevant in today’s social political climate. But while it touches on hot topic matters such as racism, discrimination, feminism and ambition, the film is at its most glorious when telling a simple story. A romantic story about a woman falling in love with a fish. Imagine if you will a period version of Splash minus the quirky comedy and with hints of something more ethereal and positively adult themed.

For some the romance will be a little on the iky side, but there is a purity and innocence to it that is heartwarmingly uplifting. This is in no small part thanks to the delicate, often understated script by del Toro and Vanessa Taylor. But what really makes this are two gorgeous central performances. Doug Jones, a long time collaborator of del Toro who has essentially recycled his Hell Boy costume of Abe Sapian, moves in such a way as to be both human, alien and silent film star. Rarely is an actor allowed to use only his body to convey so many emotions but Jones does it with the deftest of movements. But the beating heart of the film is Hawkins in her Oscar nominated role. Her wide-eyed, delicate smile and swaying performance perfectly captures everything del Toro is articulating in a totally silent manner.

A B-movie brought to hauntingly beautiful life by a filmmaker clearly operating in his element. The Shape Of Water will have you holding your breath and plunging into a world of darkness that lets the light shimmer through.

Alex Moss Editor

Alex Moss’ obsession with film began the moment he witnessed the Alien burst forth from John Hurt’s stomach. It was perhaps ill-advised to witness this aged 6 but much like the beast within Hurt, he became infected by a parasite called ‘Movies’. Rarely away from his computer or a big screen, as he muses on Cinematic Deities, Alex is “more machine now than man. His mind is twisted and evil”. Email: alex.moss@filmjuice.com

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