Review: Moving ‘Shape of Water’ is Del Toro’s Finest Work

“Unable to perceive the shape of you, I find you all around me.”

RATING: ★★★★ (out of four stars)

Guillermo Del Toro is one of the most acclaimed directors working today.  He has proven himself as a master of the unconventional monster movie.  Pan’s Labyrinth is one of the most beloved movies of his filmography, and the Hell Boy franchise propelled him into the big budget real of movie making.  The Shape of Water has been a passion project of his for the better part of a decade.  Audiences can see from the very first frame the amount of craft and passion that went into this project, resulting in the best film of Del Toro’s career.

The film follows the story of Eliza, a mute girl who works as a cleaning lady for a research facility in 1960s Baltimore.  She has a simple life, following the same morning routine of making breakfast and tending to her needs before helping her elderly artistic friend with whom she shares a wall.  She scurries off to work, where her talkative friend gossips the day away.  One day, a new asset arrives to the facility that catches her attention.  This asset is the creature, an amphibious humanoid with a complex anatomy that warrants studying.  Thus the events of the film are set in motion.

The story is rather conventional.  Two star crossed lovers fall in love and fight to be together while the world tries to tear them asunder.  In a story as old as time, it’s the details here than make this screenplay truly unique.  Eliza is a mute, and the creature is unlike anything the world has ever seen.  They are both outcasts of society, misunderstood by the world because of their differences.  The world sees this creature as an animal and her as a cripple.  It’s because of her condition that Eliza is able to communicate with and understand him for what he really is.  Eliza is such an unconventional leading lady that it allows for this love story to focus on the true nature of love, as opposed to the superficial.  Having been described as The Creature from the Black Lagoon but the creature dates Julie Adams, this film plays out as a love story with a personal touch.

The cast is absolutely stellar. Sally Hawkins shines as Eliza, evoking every emotion in the spectrum without a line of dialogue.  The timidness that lends itself to the role shines through in every scene.  It underscores just how genuine of a performance Hawkins delivers.  The supporting characters also enrich the story.  Michael Shannon is great in the antagonist role as always.  It’s not quite his role in Nocturnal Animals, but he is still ominous as ever as stern and devout Strickland.  Octavia Spencer is delightful as always in her sassy performance as Eliza’s friend, Zelda.

The production of this film a top notch.  The sets are not only breathtakingly beautiful, they are 100% accurate for the period of the film.  The practical make up for the creature is astounding.  It’s commendable they did not choose to make the creature CGI, as it helps grounds this extraordinary story in reality.  The cinematography of the film is amazing, and if there is one film to compete with Roger Deakins work on Blade Runner 2049, it’d be the Shape of Water.  It is one of the most beautiful productions of the year.

The score is one of my personal favorite qualities of the film.  It is absolutely beautiful and I have had it on repeat since I walked out of my screening two weeks ago.  It is comprised of very delicate compositions that have an aquatic and ethereal feel.  Not to spoil any of the movie, but there is one number late in the second act that elevates this movie to another level.

The Shape of Water will for sure be one of the most talked about films come award season.  One of the most original takes on a love story, the screenplay is alone is awards worthy.  The cast provide amazing performances that bring this story to life.  The score and production are just some of the finest of the year.  This may be my personal favorite movie of 2017, and I am sure it will collect the accolades when the time comes.  The Shape of Water opens up at the Belcourt here in Nashville this Friday.