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From master story teller, Guillermo del Toro, comes THE SHAPE OF WATER - an other-worldly fable, set against the backdrop of Cold War era America circa 1962. In the hidden high-security government laboratory where she works, lonely Elisa (Sally Hawkins) is trapped in a life of isolation. Elisa's life is changed forever when she and co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer) discover a secret classified experiment. Rounding out the cast are Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Michael Stuhlbarg and Doug Jones. Written by
Fox Searchlight Pictures
If I was to tell you about Guillermo Del Toro's new film what would I say.
As the father of dark fantasy, Guillermo Del Toro knows how to bring alive the illusive wonderlands and nightmares we can relish and transform them into wonderful poignant crafts of insight and meaning, and The Shape of Water is no exception. With its journey from Venice to Toronto, The Shape of Water has now hit the London Film Festival, now within reach of this exuberant critic. I had only the budget to see one film at this year's festival and I most certainly made a wise decision.
During the Cold War conflict of the 60s, a mute but hearing Eliza (Sally Hawkins) works as a cleaner at a secret government facility, where she becomes drawn to the new specimen: a mysterious marine creature (Doug Jones). While Eliza begins to fall in love with it, the facility head Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon), only desires to take the creature apart for experimental advantage against the Russians. Eliza's bond with the creature soon begins to effect those around her: her neighbour Giles (Richard Jenkins), work college Zelda (Octavia Spencer) and scientist Robert Hoffsteder (Michael Stuhbarg) What is amazing profound about Del Toro's latest work is its eccentric visualisation in reflection of the political and social conceptions of the past , but also today. The most centralised end is the the treatment of those who are different. Directly dealing with the fantasy of other species but intertwined with racial treatment relevant to the time in which the film is set, and then of course against the back drop of the national conflicts, but then also the value of those with deficiencies, as portrayed by Sally Hawkins.
More distant from his darker tones in, Pan's Labyrinth, and Crimson Peak, but not far from the surreal fantasy, The Shape of Water becomes more grounded than previous Del Toro films, and diversely more lighter and funnier. With frequent laughs and jokes on screen, the romantic fantasy is a much light hearted watch, of course not without its moment of bloody violence but at a lower volume. What may be hard for some audiences to get their head around, is this idea of an inter-species relations and with the astonishing design of the creature itself becomes something more than just a fish costume. The bond and sexuality of this romance is a significant thread to the film and is one that featured heavily with its repetitive moments of adult content. But what Del Toro explores its is real beauty in love and within the context of the film it does becomes something remarkable.
Sally Hawkins is exceptional in her vigorous performance as the mute Eliza, with dynamic sign language and spirited facial expressions, we see the isolated heart of the "princess without voice" which makes her connection to this solitary creature all the more real. Opposite her is the confident physical actor Doug Jones, manning the rubber suit of the creature in a brilliant bodily performance, outdoing his previous collaborative performances with Del Toro. Then Michael Shannon sensationally brings the real monster to the tale in Strickland, the dominating Colonel facing his battle in masculinity as well as with the creature. Shannon gives one of the best performances of his career, keeping with that classic fairy tale juxtaposition of man being the real monster.
As with all Del Toro's dark fantasies, it all becomes about the characters. Eliza reaching out to another like herself. Strickland trying to maintain his power and masculinity in his skirmish with the creature and Eliza. Hoffsetider being caught between to sides but seeking his own right, and Giles trying to find his significance back in society.
As never fails with a Del Toro films is the signature production design that brings to life these magnificent worlds. The Shape of Water although is not full Del Tory fairy tale land, does have a very extraordinary construct of the real world, from Eliza's apartment to the secret facility, echoing the true Gothic universe of the real world. Opening in a momentous title sequence, Del Toro literally floods the screen in ravishing visual effects and segments. Only more so combined with the inescapable talents of cinematographer: Dan Laustsen, swiftly moving from one room to the next in a mythical immersive experience alluring us furthermore into the depths of the story and art work of the film.
The Shape of Water is a wonderfully weird, quirky, heart-warming, extraordinary piece of cinema. For fans who have found Del Toro's previous works too dark or scary, will be delighted by this much more charming fantasy.
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