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article imageReview: ‘The Shape of Water’ is Guillermo Del Toro’s best film to date Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Dec 9, 2017 in Entertainment
‘The Shape of Water’ is one of the best movies of the year and the fact that it’s unconventional is just the tip of the iceberg.
Put simply: Guillermo Del Toro makes interesting films. When he’s tackling a specific genre, the result is uniquely striking. Even when they incorporate conventions, the stories are spellbinding, and the visuals are frequently breathtaking. Just the announcement of his next project builds immediate anticipation for the picture, which is usually still years from release. Del Toro’s latest film is undoubtedly a project that was close to his heart, which he’s unmistakeably poured into this movie as well. The Shape of Water is one of the year’s best and most favoured films.
Elisa (Sally Hawkins) lives a relatively plain life. She performs the same routine each day before going to work at a secret government lab, cleaning up after the country’s smartest men. Her best friends are her aging neighbour and artist, Giles (Richard Jenkins), and her co-worker, Zelda (Octavia Spencer). She’s been mute her whole life, but that hasn’t stopped it from being full. One day a government operative (Michael Shannon) delivers a top-secret asset to the lab, which Elisa glimpses before being shooed from the room. Her curiosity gets the best of her and she returns to discover an amphibious creature (Doug Jones) that appears to be part-fish and part-man being held prisoner and subjected to violent experiments. Befriending him, Elisa becomes determined to set him free — a mission that takes on even greater urgency.
When describing this film, it doesn’t fit into any single category. It’s a romance, a creature-feature, a fantasy, a spy movie and a thriller. The captive being is evocative of Creature from the Black Lagoon with an appreciation for music and a gentle nature when he’s not being tortured. The romantic aspect of the picture is both ever-present and somewhat surprising. It develops naturally and comes across completely genuine, which simultaneously feels unusual and like the inevitable progression of any couple finally coming together in a similar genre picture. The whimsical elements can be found in the movie’s structure and some of the more fanciful scenes, such as the spontaneous song and DIY water tank. It’s also innately humorous in so many ways. The suspense is driven by Shannon’s character who is also the film’s malevolent force, literally and figuratively rotting as the narrative progresses. His watchfulness and pursuit keep everyone on edge. And the ongoing arms race with Russia informs the espionage side of the story as both sides demonstrate they’re one-track approach to winning.
The movie’s aesthetic is spectacularly stunning. It opens in a flooded apartment, in which the water slowly recedes to reveal a quaintly decorated room and the film’s protagonist. Taking place in the 1960s, both Elisa’s and Giles’ homes feel lived in and comfortable with cozy couches and warm lighting. Their adjacent flats are located above a struggling movie theatre called The Orpheum, though the pair tend to watch most of their pictures on Giles’ black-and-white TV. This, of course, is a stark contrast to the government facility, which is bathed in harsh fluorescent light, and covered in concrete, metal… and occasionally blood. Also, the camera tends to keep its distance more around the lab, where the frame in their homes is tighter and more intimate.
This film is the embodiment of everything cinema is meant to be — on screen and for audiences — as well as a love letter to what it once was. Homage isn’t the right word because Del Toro has distinctively made it all his own with his exceptional talent for making extraordinary movies.
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Starring: Sally Hawkins, Octavia Spencer and Michael Shannon
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