An other-worldly fairy tale, 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.
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A few years back, rumors swelled that director Guillermo del Toro (Pacific Rim
, The Devil's Backbone
) was developing a remake of Creature from the Black Lagoon
, possibly as an entry into the ill-fated Universal Dark Universe. That movie never materialized, but that hasn't stopped del Toro from turning his work into his own sea monster movie called The Shape of Water
Set in the cold-war era of the early sixties, The Shape of Water
is about a mute woman named Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins from Paddington
) who works as a cleaning lady at a top-secret government lab. One night, Elisa is told to mop up a room that is on lock down. She discovers that the room houses a sea creature (played by del Toro regular/professional monster Doug Jones from Hellboy
and Pan's Labyrinth
) that the government plans to dissect. Seeing that the creature is sentient and intelligent, Elisa decides to stage a breakout with the help of her coworker Zelda Fuller (Octavia Spencer from Hidden Figures
and The Help
), her best friend Giles (Richard Jenkins from The Cabin in the Woods
), and sympathetic scientist Dr. Robert Hoffstetler (Arrival
's Michael Stuhlbarg). But a maniac rogue government agent named Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon from Nocturnal Animals
and Elvis & Nixon
) stands in the way of the plan.
At its core, The Shape of Water
is a twisted little love story between Elisa and the creature, two silent beings who have way more in common than anyone could at first imagine. Guillermo del Toro wrote the screenplay along with Vanessa Taylor (Divergent
), and it unfolds not unlike a fairy tale or a childhood fable. It goes from point A to point B in a logical sense, but dumbs down a lot of the esoteric stuff in order to drive its Swamp Thing
-esque social message home.
Because of this, there are a lot of gaps in the story, many subplots that are left unexplored and untold. Why is Strickland such a bastard? How did Dr. Hoffstetler become a decent guy? How does Elisa not realize that Giles is in love with her? These juicy little missed opportunities fall by the wayside as the narrative pummels its way through the sea creature story. And to an extent, that's fine. It is, after all, a monster movie at heart, isn't it? But there's an entire mythology that is only hinted at in The Shape of Water
. Maybe del Toro is saving those sidebars for the graphic novel?
Like many Guillermo del Toro movies, The Shape of Water
might be a little too weird for some people. It pays loving tribute to classic sci-fi monster movies, but does so with del Toro's impeccable artistic style remaining completely intact. There's a strange pacing to the movie where almost the whole second half feels like the third act careening to its resolution, and del Toro even went so far as to toss in a crazy Lynchian song and dance number to add even more bounce to his already surreal modern fairy tale. The bottom line is that del Toro fans will love The Shape of Water
just as much as they reviled Crimson Peak
. Guillermo del Toro is back from his little ghostly vacation with another fantastical monster movie.
Guillermo del Toro has a definite directorial style to his work, and it is on full display in The Shape of Water
. The film is aesthetically beautiful, with a very green, comic book-like look to it that puts the "cold" in Cold War, and it tells a story that is melodramatic and campy, with just enough of a message to be taken seriously as a movie. Of course, it has a monster, and of course, it's a practical effects suit that allows longtime del Toro collaborator Doug Jones to provide a sympathetic and loving personality to the creature (some scenes, mostly of the creature swimming, are digital, but the bulk of the monster sequences are Doug Jones doing the Doug Jones thing). Basically, with The Shape of Water
, Guillermo del Toro has made a movie that only Guillermo del Toro could have made, and it looks exactly like what people expect a Guillermo del Toro to look like. Del Toro is as close to an auteur as anyone who is working in movies today, and his meticulous attention to detail assures that what is onscreen is his exact vision, whether the audience is into it or not.