Starring: Sally Hawkins, Richard Jenkins, Michael Shannon
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Running Time: 123 mins
The Shape Of Water is an American film about a mute woman who, after forming a deep connection with an imprisoned creature, hatches a plot to free him from the shackles of the US government in the midst of the Cold War.
This film offers something very, very different to what we’re used to. From Guillermo del Toro, the man who is so renowned for the likes of Pan’s Labyrinth, it was always clear that The Shape Of Water was going to be strange, but it’s quite difficult to describe how unorthodox a film it is, and yet with wonderful performances, incredibly elegant and beautiful visuals, music and directing, and an engaging story to boot, it’s one of the most striking films I’ve ever seen, and a wonder to see something so different.
Much like Pan’s Labyrinth, what I was so happy to see with The Shape Of Water was just how confident and strong it is in its delivery of a story and overall atmosphere that just isn’t mainstream. I started off the film bewildered as to almost everything that was going on, with a bizarre combination of genres that really shouldn’t be put together, however because del Toro pushes ahead with his vision with such determination, and not waiting for you to catch up or explaining things to make them easier, it’s such a striking and powerful watch right up to the end.
I can imagine that this is the sort of film where you either go with everything from the beginning, or it’s lost on you the whole way through. Going into this with an open mind is vital, because it defies pretty much expectation that you can have, taking the story and the atmosphere in completely unpredictable and thrilling new directions. If you do go with it and can keep yourself open to watching something so unorthodox, it’s a brilliant film, but I do recognise that there will be many people who could struggle with the film just because its opening alone is so unorthodox.
In that, The Shape Of Water is definitely less accessible than the likes of Pan’s Labyrinth. That’s not because it’s a particularly difficult or taxing watch, but it is a very artistic and loosely-bound film throughout. I found the creativity and endless imagination absolutely amazing to see on screen, being able to watch something that I can’t really compare to any other major Hollywood movie, but I will warn that this definitely isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea.
However, I found The Shape Of Water to be such a beautiful and consistently striking film. Although I will say that it struggles to streamline and focus itself in certain ways during the first act, the visual craft that del Toro offers, along with what can only be described as one of the most powerful and beautiful scores I’ve ever heard, always make up for any deficiencies, and turn the film into a feast for the eyes and ears throughout.
The story here is comparatively thin, with the simple thriller element that takes charge of the plot not offering as much satisfying depth as the film’s more arty side, however when you do look beyond that, particularly at the central relationship between Sally Hawkins’ character and the creature, you find that the film is still teeming with incredible imagination and depth, which I absolutely adored.
What’s also rather surprising about this movie is just how entertaining and funny it is. Provided you’re not immediately put off by its loose artiness, there’s a real charm in the film’s humour that brings it down to earth from what could have been a really pretentious and dull watch. All of the actors are just as funny as they are riveting, and the screenplay is full of fantastic dialogue that will make you laugh just as much as del Toro stuns you with his visuals.
So, that’s another surprising side to the story that’s a bonus. However, with all these various elements and genres being thrown around; romance, drama, spy thriller, comedy, fantasy; there is a part of me that feels like the film is a little messy. When it really doubles down and focuses on one genre in particular, it’s amazing, with the romance scenes being absolutely moving, and the thriller sequences having you on the edge of your seat. However, it doesn’t quite manage to move between each of those genres and atmospheres quite so organically, something that is often frustrating and even jarring, presenting the film’s biggest problem.
As elegant and beautiful as the overarching atmosphere is, those tone shifts and inconsistencies were a little disappointing to see, and took away from what could have been a near-perfectly crafted work.
Finally, let’s look at the performances. In the midst of all the imaginative madness and unorthodox craft from del Toro, the A-list cast does a great job at bringing a whole range of ideas and concepts to life. Sally Hawkins is wonderful in the lead role, with all the cuteness and pleasantness of Amélie Poulain, and yet shines when she shows her character’s far deeper and often even darker side, making her a riveting lead as well as one to make you smile.
Richard Jenkins is a real surprise in a supporting role as her neighbour, and gives one of his most unorthodox and charming performances yet, Michael Shannon is a fantastic antagonist, with all of the intensity that we know him for coming to light brilliantly, and Octavia Spencer is a great laugh in a smaller role, still having importance in the overall story, but offering great comic relief throughout.
On the whole, The Shape Of Water is a film that’s really rather hard to pin down. I know that it’s definitely not going to be for everyone, given how incredibly different it is, however I found it to be one of the most strikingly beautiful and elegant films I’ve seen in years. It suffers with tonal inconsistencies and an often unfocused plot, however thanks to stunning directorial craft from Guillermo del Toro, a wonderful score from Alexandre Desplat, and excellent performances across the board, it’s a riveting, engrossing and very memorable watch in the end, and that’s why I’m giving it an 8.0.