+ Recommended – R, Fantasy, Romance
A witty and unexpected monster movie that duals as a love story. Writer-director Guillermo del Toro’s (Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy) love for dark fantasy remains truly unique. Unlike many films, The Shape of Water isn’t afraid to be bold and different.
Instead, the film relishes in a completely unorthodox form of storytelling. The story follows Elisa. A mute, janitorial worker that falls in love with an aquatic creature brought into the research facility she works at. Much like herself, the creature communicates non-verbally.
Richard Jenkins (Cabin in the Woods, The Visitor), playing the main supporting character, delivers a wholehearted, charming performance and steals the screen for the duration of the film. In fact, almost the entire supporting cast delivered believable and lovable performances. The supporting cast included: Octavia Spencer (Help, Hidden Figures), Michael Stuhlbarg (Boardwalk Empire, A Serious Man), and David Hewlett (Incorporated). Our main protagonist, Elisa, is played by Sally Hawkins. Sally is able to add depth to her character with no words, something that not many actors can accomplish.
Michael Shannon’s character, Strickland, desires to constantly be acknowledged as “the man.” His love for said acknowledgment motivates him in the worst possible ways. He serves as the primary antagonist of this film and the character’s mannerisms and mental state can be very unsettling. Of course, Doug Jones (Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy) also performs non-verbally behind the practical effects of the aquatic creature. At times, the story does remind us that he is, in fact, still a wild creature. I suppose that is the main difference between stories like this and that of Beauty and the Beast.
While the story is rich and unexplored for the most part, there are certain scenes that are absolutely jarring to watch; almost to the point of being too uncomfortable. This, however, was Guillermo’s intention and the reaction he expected from audiences. When directors and writers are given the creative freedom they deserve it can lead to fresh and exciting storytelling. That’s what this film is; fresh and exciting. And even if some risks don’t hit their mark, I can still appreciate the original concepts here. This film deserves to be seen at least once.