Director Guillermo del Toro creates a beautiful fantasy world that resembles our own in his newest film, The Shape of Water (2017). In the early days of the Cold War, an Amphibian Man (Doug Jones) from the Amazon River has been brought to an American research facility by Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon). Dr. Robert Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg) is tasked with experimenting on it, and find it’s secrets, which are also sought after by the Russians. However, Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins), a mute custodian of the facility, finds the creature fascinating, and an attraction between them forms and she seeks to save it from the confines of the lab.
The Shape of Water is strikingly beautiful
This is an original story that definitely pulls from a variety of sources. There is an obvious vibe of Beauty and the Beast, but also Cinderella’s underdog vibe that this magnificent creature sees Elisa in a way no one else does. The green color palette that soaks the world adds an aquatic dream-like mood that cements the fairy tale elements in the film. The opening sequence is magnificent, as we see Elisa’s apartment – her world essentially – completely flooded with water and the pieces of her life just suspended. Eventually, the camera finds her in her green nightgown and robe floating just above her couch. She slowly returns to the couch as the water vanishes and her alarm goes off. It’s a gorgeous sequence that again alerts the audience as to the type of story del Toro is telling.
Alongside the terrific performances from Hawkins, Shannon, Stuhlbarg, and Jones are two extremely strong and memorable supporting performances from Richard Jenkins, who plays Elisa’s neighbor and friend Giles, and Octavia Spencer, who plays Elisa’s friend and coworker Zelda. Both characters add to a theme that del Toro is definitely toying with. Elisa is mute, Zelda is black, Giles is gay and all three are living during the civil rights movement, which is depicted at least once on a news program. The idea of humanity and superiority is heavy in this film, and at the core, the treatment of a human-like creature who look very different embodies that message. The four characters mentioned in this paragraph all suffer some kind of indignity due to their appearance or characteristic that isn’t deemed desirable or acceptable in the time period. Del Toro is a master of exploring these human issues in fantastical ways, and he excels again in this film.
Despite the amazing performances and gorgeous production design, there was something missing for me in this film. I find that it is very frustrating to watch something like The Shape of Water and know it’s excellently crafted and that the performances are of the highest caliber, yet, still not feel the connection to it enough to proclaim, “I love this film.” There isn’t a clear reason why the film only managed a strong appreciation for the art and not enough to make it one of my favorites of the year. I was never bored, nor did I dislike any particular elements, but it also didn’t move me significantly in any way to make me love it. Thus, The Shape of Water earns the Not Quite Golden, Ponyboy rating.