“Yet another example of Del Toro’s brilliance. A fully realised and (somehow) realistic interpretation of love that is captivating, honest, and a joy to watch.”
Directed by: Guillermo del Toro
Written by: Guillermo del Toro and Vanessa Taylor
Runtime: 123 Mins
Release: 14 February 2018 (UK)
Trust Guillermo del Toro to make one of the most unusual love stories in the history of cinema; yet, in true Del Toro fashion, he manages to create a captivating tale full of raw and realistic emotion that, whilst adhering to his insistence for Grimm fairy tale-esque endings, proves that his vision is a much needed ingredient in the type of cinema produced today. In just under two hours the writer/director made me fully invested in the relationship between a mute woman and a humanoid fish monster, with dialogue that totalled little more than the word ‘Egg’ signed between them. If that is not an indicator of true skill in writing and directing I don’t know what is.
Outside of the odd relationship that makes up the majority of the plot, The Shape of Water is perhaps Del Toro’s most immersive feature film. Unlike some of his previous work that has shown realms that are parallel to our own, this film solely exists within his interpretation of the sixties. Full of intoxicating Art Deco scenes, every frame of this film can be likened to a work of art; everything, from the high windows of the main characters apartment, the cinema she lives above, the place she works in, and even the chaise lounge she uses as a bed, all show a fully realised world that has had every single minute detail thought about.
Even though it is a fully realised recreation of what (I’m sure) is what goes on inside Del Toro’s head, the film is not shy about showing the true nature of the time it is set. It could have been very easy to mask some of the horrors of the age, to use them as background elements or even ignore them completely, but Del Toro brings them to the forefront, moulding the narrative of his characters around them. From brutal racism and homophobia, to the treatment of women and those with perceived disabilities, this version of the sixties is held under a harsh light, unafraid to include uncomfortable events as they would have been.
Yet how these events are introduced are wonderfully done. My favourite of which involving a gay character. The sexuality of this main character is not revealed through an exposing monologue or a declaration, but a wonderfully subtle excitement to see the object of their affection. It was one of the most unassuming scenes, treating a characters homosexuality the way it should always be portrayed, not as their defining characteristic but just a true interpretation of their self.
However, the main draw of this movie is, of course, the unique romance that runs throughout it. Heavily influenced by the Creature from the Black Lagoon, this main thread of The Shape of Water is surprisingly honest. In the hands of a weaker director it would have come across as farcical, yet here it feels true; even when the subject of the monsters genitalia inevitably comes up (no pun intended) it is handled (again, not a pun) incredibly well, the excitement of the main character making the scene unusually sweet. This is thanks to actress Sally Hawkins who, despite playing a mute character, offers such a wonderfully powerful performance that you fully buy into the world presented.
Hers is not the only powerful performance on display, in fact there is not a poor choice in the bunch. Michael Shannon oozes with malicious evil, Richard Jenkins reveals a vulnerability I have never seen from him before, Octavia Spencer proves once again that she is one of the best actresses in Hollywood, Michael Stuhlbarg gives heart to a character often lumbered with the ‘bad guy’ trope, and Doug Jones excels as the creature and explains why Del Toro always chooses him to be shoved under all of those prosthetics.
The Shape of Water is yet another example of Del Toro’s brilliance. A fully realised and (somehow) realistic interpretation of love that is captivating, honest, and a joy to watch.