Released: 16th February 2018
Directed By: Guillermo Del Toro
Starring: Sally Hawkins, Richard Jenkins
Reviewed By: Hannah Woodhead
Let’s face it: the release of a new Guillermo del Toro film is always something to look forward to. Few filmmakers working today are as uniquely gifted as the man behind The Devil’s Backbone, Pan’s Labyrinth and Pacific Rim, who has a true knack for turning figments of his brilliant imagination into immersive cinematic reality. His latest film, The Shape of Water, is no exception and might be his best work since the brilliant, heart-breaking Pan’s Labyrinth.
A dreamy fairytale meets monster movie, The Shape of Water sees Sally Hawkins play Elisa, a mute woman working as a cleaner at a top secret government laboratory. One day a new arrival is brought to the laboratory under the close guard of Michael Shannon’s sadistic Colonel Richard Strickland, and despite being ordered to not approach the mysterious creature known only as ‘The Asset’, Elisa’s curiosity soon gets the better of her. A unique romance quickly unfolds, but Elisa’s happiness and the life of her new friend are soon threatened by the unhinged Strickland who threatens to destroy it all.
It’s a film that succeeds primarily on the strength of the performances given by its talented cast – Hawkins is incredible as Elisa, giving a heart-rending performance that aches with vulnerability and charm. Her desperation to find her place in the world is palpable, and Hawkins bring to the role a unique earnestness, matched perfectly by Michael Shannon’s intense and disturbing turn as Richard Strickland, who takes an unhealthy interest in Elisa for all the wrong reasons. Then there’s Doug Jones, frequent del Toro collaborator, who brings a beautiful poetry to the film through his non-verbal performance as The Asset. The supporting cast is incredibly strong too, comprised of Octavia Spencer as Elisa’s friend Zelda, Richard Jenkins as her neighbour Giles, and Michael Stuhlbarg as the conflicted scientist Robert Hoffstetler.
It’s certainly a symphony of cinematic talent, but that isn’t where the magic ends. The Shape of Water is perhaps del Toro’s most hopeful story, as poignant as Pan’s Labyrinth but less emotionally devastating. It’s funny and has charm in abundance, as well as being one of the few films that displays women’s sexuality frankly, rather than tip-toeing around the idea that women too can be sexual beings. Once against del Toro proves he has a real gift for creating characters, in particular women. It’s a transporting, mesmerising gem of a film, that like the deepest ocean, has unseen depths. It’s a fairy tale, but so much more, and you can take as much or as little from The Shape of Water as you desire.