You had me at aquatic harmony of wave-like emotional collisions delivered by a stellar cast and crew.
Guillermo del Toro’s Oscar-nominated The Shape of Water is a true celebration of everything that makes cinema great. Prepare for a simple love story on the surface that reaches deeper below water than ever expected.
Elisa (Sally Hawkins) works in a top secret research facility with her colleague Zelda (Octavia Spencer). When a new “subject” is brought in, with the addition of some extra security in the form of Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon), Elisa’s dull and routine-heavy life gets a splash of fresh adventure. The unknown amphibian man (Doug Jones) is experimented on and finds relief only in Elisa’s company.
The theme of water not only infuses the plot, the pacing and editing of this movie felt like a fluid motion. Water-inspired transitions and the patience to really take the time on important moments and swiftly move through others result in perfectly dynamic story and character arcs. Also, the movement of the camera with flowing tracking shots, slow tilts and tentative pans sustains and releases intensity of a scene with brilliance.
The Shape of Water doesn’t take us around the world but the locations and set design are so very detailed and rich, no doubt about the authenticity can find its way. In close relationship with that stands light design. The way a ray of light finds the eyes of a character or a neon sign pierces through the morning fog of a city – effective and beautiful. Moreover, the costume and makeup department should be celebrated just as much.
Besides a wonderful story, the perfomances of the actresses and actors deserve all the buzz. Sally Hawkins (Elisa) leads this movie without actually speaking and she does it with such force, it’s mesmerizing. Her delivery expressed through body language and the emotions in her eyes transports sweetness, pain, loneliness, rebellion and compassion. The opposing might of Michael Shannon (Strickland) will make you wish you could crawl into a seashell deep under the sea. His acting and the development of his character are captivating and share the weight of carrying the third act – together with another outstanding achievement by Michael Stuhlbarg (Dr. Hoffstetler).
At the center of this movie stands the questioning of humanity’s righteousness and what it means to be human. Del Toro comments on race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, aging, arrogance, disabilities, friendship, love and much more. He tells a story about people and how dangerous they can be, believing they are unquestionably right. This is achieved by exposing just the right amount of the individuals’ intimate intricacies, offering the viewer a hook to identify with each of the main characters to some extent. Therefore, this movie shows that any aspect of a person can be fluid. Elisa sees behind the judgment of a creature from somwhere in South America. She sees “him” and he sees her for the way they are.
The Shape of Water succeeds in balancing extreme and sometimes bipolar emotions such as disgust and love while never losing the fantastical and romantic charm of del Toro’s storytelling. Nonetheless, you won’t be missing out on del Toro’s gritty and dark style either. Alexandre Desplat’s music with its sweet French vibe and orchestral crescendos hugs the action and completes this cinematic experience. Undoubtedly, masters were at work and isn’t it delightful to see the “love letter to cinema” written out on the big screen?