Film in review: “Shape of Water”


Blake Gasner, Film Reporter

This film is a fairy tale. This film is a monster movie. This film is a Cold War paranoia thriller. It’s all the above as well as one of the most creative movies of the past year, period. It can be obvious where some of the inspiration for the “Shape of Water” came from (“Beauty and the Beast,” “E.T.,” “The Creature from the Black Lagoon”) but what’s not obvious is how a man can interconnect such entirely different inspirations and miraculously still weave them together into his own unique symphony (and believe me, “unique” is a very suitable term to describe this tale).

“The Shape of Water” tells the story of a mute woman named Elisa (Sally Hawkins) who lives a relatively lonely life in a loft above a movie theater, next door to her close friend, Giles (Richard Jenkins). While working at a government facility as a janitor alongside her only other friend, Zelda (Octavia Spencer), Elisa discovers an unexpected connection with a recent, top secret arrival and must pass unassumingly by the uptight security agent, Richard (Michael Shannon), in order to assist her new friend to liberation. The story is trulyfantastical and, in order to enjoy it, you have to buy in. You must unstrap your “adult” skepticism at the door and walk in with the intention to reclaim whatever childlike wonder that, deep down, you assuredly still retain. We tend to lose our imaginations as we age, but thankfully, due to the existence of great directors like Guillermo del Toro (“Pan’s Labyrinth,” “Hellboy”), we can still reinvigorate the magic we felt as children while still not growing blind to the world around us. This movie is 100 percent escapism but it’s also mature in the way it handles its material. “Escapism” is often given a bad rap, as if losing ourselves in the world illuminated on screen is ALWAYS a bad thing. In a world today, where it seems many people are upset with the current quality of life in general, fantasy may be exactly what we need.

As mentioned earlier though, “The Shape of Water” is told through a very mature lens. It’s a fairy tale, but a fairy tale with qualities only adults will be able to fully recognize. It showcases two very different people: Sally Hawkinws who incredibly portrayed Elisa, and Michael Shannon’s fearsome Richard. Both are adults who swear, experience violence and think about sex (giving the “R Rating” clear justification right from the moment our protagonist jumps into her bathtub for a few moments of “privacy” at the beginning of the film) but both are also quite evidently still children inside. Elisa illustrates the innocent qualities of curiosity and warmth while Richard illustrates a desire to prove himself and establish authority over others (he is in all senses “childish” as especially evidenced by his compulsive absorption of candy). Both are great in their roles, Hawkins especially, considering she must communicate her wide scope of emotions through body language exclusively. However, the real shining star in the cast is Richard Jenkins’ sympathetic Giles who not only provides some of the most splendidly comedic moments of the film, but also an unexpectedly different take on the quintessential midlife crises.

The talent in front of the camera is great, but the talent behind it is even greater. The way del Toro and his cinematographer, Dan Laustsen, float the camera through the vibrant world they construct is worth the price of admission alone, if you are astonished by the beauty of cinematography like I am. WOWWWW. And the attention to detail in each shot is marvelous. The smallest things, like an old man holding a partially eaten birthday cake at a bus stop, draw you in and allow your curiosity to flourish even more. Why is he there? Did he eat that slice himself? Is it his birthday? You’ll never know because immediately after that, del Toro has your eyes scattering across the screen investigating other exciting prospects. It’s no question “The Shape of Water” received so many nominations for awards in the technical categories at the Oscars because it deserves them. Even the film’s soundtrack is magnetic in its fluffy and romantic “drift you off to bed” aesthetic.

The Shape of Water hits all these marks high but it still falters in perhaps the most important aspect; romance. In order to really explicate this, I’ll compare it to last year’s “La La Land.” Both are fantastical romance films that pay tribute to cinema of the old, while being bolstered by great performances and spellbinding presentation. However, the most essential element of “The Shape of Water” (the romance) pales in comparison to “La La Land’s” charismatic passion between Gosling and Stone. Granted, “The Shape of Water” has a far more difficult task, uniting a mute woman and non-human creature together, but it still doesn’t take the vital time necessary to establish a connection between both during the first half, in order to give justification for decisions made later in the movie. This left some people finding parts of the story “a bit corny.” One cynical man in front of me even sat through the credits scoffing at everything he just witnessed. But even though it will clearly not be appreciated by everyone, “The Shape of Water” is still overall a wonderful and fantastical film that will dust off the imaginations of those willing to dream.

Consensus: If in the mood for a touching fairy tale experience for adults, wrapped in some of the most beautiful visuals of the past year, then “The Shape of Water” is the film for you. 4/5