Screen clipping from The Shape of Water. Photo courtesy of google.com
By Mason Edwards
Award season is in full swing, and many critically acclaimed films are hitting theaters. Out of the critical and popular favorites, The Shape of Water stands out for its remarkable style, storytelling, and performances.
Directed by award-winning director Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water centers around Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins), a mute janitor working in a secret government research facility during the 1960s. When the government brings in a mysterious amphibian man (Doug Jones), Elisa and the creature begin to form a relationship.
When she hears that his life is in danger, Elisa devises an escape plan and aided by fellow janitor Zelda (Octavia Spencer) and her quirky neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins) to get him out of harm’s way. The ruthless facility supervisor Colonel Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon) catches wind of the escape plan and will stop at nothing to secure the “asset” and use it to further U.S. interests.
Initially, I was expecting a cliché love story between two unconventional lovers, a mute female janitor and a weird fish-person. The romance played out in typical fashion, but it was much less important than the issues explored within the narrative of the movie.
Like many other critically acclaimed films released this year, which are more directly centered around political and social issues in the U.S. such as police brutality, race relations, and gender norms, The Shape of Water touches on similar issues in a more subtle way. Del Toro expertly addresses themes of corruption and institutionalized social evils of the hidden powers that be using the setting of the Cold War,
The storytelling was made palpable by a cast of strong actors who gave powerful performances. Hawkins is a convincing mute as Elisa, easily making this one of her most memorable roles to date, and possibly putting her in contention for ‘Best Actress.’
Shannon’s performance presents the audience with a well executed antagonist whose character feels more fleshed out than conventional villains. Doug Jones’s impressive fishman costume feels genuine, coupled with his strange, yet fitting portrayal of such an eccentric character. I was disappointed in Octavia Spencer’s limited, and seemingly typecast, supporting role.
The Shape of Water also showcases artistic direction that is unique and fresh. Del Toro uses a limited number of settings that were intricately designed to match the ‘60s aesthetic. The lighting, set design, musical score, and camerawork evoke a theatrical feel, creating for the viewer a sense of intimacy and immersion much like a traditional stage plays.
Though I speak highly of Del Toro’s most recent accomplishment, it isn’t for everyone. If you are looking for a movie that delivers pure fun and enjoyment, you will probably not see eye to eye with most film critics. The Shape of Water’s message is overtly political, which may not appeal to some viewers. However, if you are looking for a solid movie that breaks the cinematic mold while delivering compelling ideas, it may be for you.