THE SHAPE OF WATER
A smart, exciting, and very romantic love story.
Film Review © 2017 by Trip Reynolds
Pseudo Science-Fiction Drama
Directed by Guillermo del Toro. Written by Guillermo del Toro and Vanessa Taylor. Based on a story by Guillermo del Toro.
Starring: Sally Hawkins (as Elisa Esposito), Michael Shannon (as Richard Strickland), Richard Jenkins (as Giles), Octavia Spencer (as Zelda Fuller), Michael Stuhlbarg (as Dr. Robert Hoffstetler), Doug Jones (as Amphibian Man), David Hewlett (as Fleming), Nick Searcy (as General Hoyt), Stewart Arnott (as Bernard), Nigel Bennett (as Mihalkov), Lauren Lee Smith (as Elaine Strickland), Martin Roach (as Brewster Fuller), and a host of others.
The story? A deaf woman employed as a janitor at a top secret government research facility discovers, befriends, and falls in love with an incarcerated and constantly tortured amphibious man. For those of you born of the baby boomer generation, consider this film as a serious love story between the amphibious man and the female love interest Kay Lawrence (portrayed by Julie Adams) in the legendary 1954 film, "Creature of the Black Lagoon." But "The Shape of Water" is not a horror film, it's not a science fiction film, and it's really not a fanstasy either - it's a very passionate and serious love story.
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That's right, from the opening sequence that features total rear and frontal nudity and frequent early morning masterbation of central character Elisa Esposito (portrayed by actress Sally Hawkins), it's blatantly obvious this is a serious, non-pornographic dramatic adult story. Elisa leads a very perfunctory life of daily repetition, and lonliness, and menial janitorial work at a darkly lit top secret research facility that looks more like a dungeon than a research lab. The heavy in this film is the very nasty Richard Strickland (portrayed by Michael Shannon, a.k.a., General Zod in "Man of Steel"), a no-nonsense career-minded bureaucrat who revels at torturing the amphibious man for the pleasure of it. Strickland is also a family man, but his wife and children are confined to a male-dominated 1960s era chauvinism.
The film is set during the coldwar era of the 1960s, and both the United States and Russia desparately want whatever secrets a one-of-a-kind amphibious man might reveal. So, to obtain these secrets for most of the film the amphibian man is chained, beaten, and electrocuted with a cattle prod-like device, but he occassionalluy manages to fight back leaving a bloody mess and the body parts of his torturers sprawlled on the research lab concrete floor. Shortly after Elisa and her best friend, co-worker Zelda Fuller (Octavia Spencer), were tasked to clean-up the blood and gore, Elisa discovered a large glass tank containing water and inside the tank - something or someone. Over the next few days Elisa's fascination grew and she soon learned not to fear the creature and they became friends. As a deaf woman, Elisa's life seemed to mirror the lonliness of the amphibious man, and their ability to communicate had nothing to do with words but everything to do with establishing an extremely honest-to-the-core emotional link. Their relationship is genuine, and the acting of Sally Hawkins is immediately responsible for making their relationship believeable. Elisa and the amphibian man share heartfelt lovemaking in this film, and it's beautiful, and never gratuitous. The film establishes a connection between the limitless shape of love and the unlimited shape of water, and it works!
Acting performances by all players is first rate. Film direction by Guillermo del Toro is excellent with some outstanding shot selection and camera angles. Although film is 123 minutes long, nevertheless, editing by Sidney Wolinsky is sharp and film moves at a brisk pace. Equally important is the overall look and feel of this film, from set decoration by Jeffrey Melvin and Shane Vieau, production design by Paul Austerberry, art direction by Nigel Churcher, costume design by Luis Sequeira, and very crisp cinematography by Dan Laustsen - all of which collectively established a 1960s cold-war atmosphere. For a film made in 1954, the creature suit worn by the amphibious man in "The Creature of the Black Lagoon" looked believeable, but in "The Shape of Water" film technology has progressed signficantly, so much so that the amphibious man's eyes blink just like a fish. This film looks great, and you'll suspend your disbelief to believe in the shape of water!
Recommendation: See this film. Buy the DVD when it becomes available.
THE SHAPE OF WATER Trailer (2017)
Creature from the Black Lagoon Trailer (1954)