SHAPE OF WATER, THE
An other-worldly fairy tale, set against the backdrop of Cold War era America circa 1962. In the hidden high-security government laboratory where she works, lonely Elisa (Sally Hawkins) is trapped in a life of isolation. Elisa's life is changed forever when she and co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer) discover a secret classified experiment and Elisa forms a unique relationship with an amphibious creature that is being held in captivity.
Review by Louise Keller:
Guillermo del Toro's best film since Pan's Labyrinth (2007), The Shape of Water is a beguiling love story: a combo of creature feature, cold war spy thriller, escape drama, parable and poetic fantasy. The film leads with the heart, weaving together the elements of its silent protagonist, the mystical God-like amphibian from the Amazon on the harsh backdrop of a high-security government facility in the 60s, where most of the action takes place. It's a masterful work and del Toro succeeds on all levels, delivering an unforgettable fairy tale and exquisite piece of visceral filmmaking that tugs on our emotions. We are intrigued, touched, heartbroken and elated.
After a brief prologue depicting an underwater kingdom and a sleeping princess without a voice, we meet mute, lonely Elisa (Sally Hawkins, never better) setting about her daily routine. Before catching the bus for her nightshift as cleaner at the secret facility, she routinely boils eggs, masturbates in her bath, polishes her shoes and visits Giles (Richard Jenkins, excellent), her gay, friendless neighbour, who paints old advertising posters and watches old Hollywood musicals on his black and white television. But there is little that is black and white in this tale of good and evil and the fact that Elisa's apartment is set above the Orpheum cinema does not escape our notice.
Key to the storytelling is the development of the relationship between Elisa and the soulful-eyed amphibian with fins, gills and iridescent blue and turquoise scales. (Doug Jones, who played Pale Man in Pan's Labyrinth is terrific.) Del Toro's great achievement is that the spell of this relationship throughout its many phases is never broken. Look out for the extraordinary song and dance fantasy segment. It is glorious.
Hawkins is magnificent, her expressive face bringing the heroic Elisa vividly to life, as she communicates with her eyes and through sign language. Elisa is the focal point around which all the relationships play out. There is something interesting about all the characters. Easy to hate is Michael Shannon as Strickland, the cruel agent who eats cheap candy and deals in intimidation and torture. Octavia Spencer talks enough for two as Elisa's cleaner colleague, Zelda ('I'm not good at lying, except when it comes to keeping a marriage together'); Michael Stuhlbarg, sympathetic as scientist Dr Robert Hoffstetler.
As to where the story leads, let me simply say, it does not disappoint. There's a poem that explains the title, a quote ('Life is but the shipwreck of our times') that is food for thought and the song 'You'll Never Know' that breaks our heart. Buoyed by Alexandre Desplat's wondrous score, Dan Laustsen's moody cinematography and del Toro's extraordinary creative vision, The Shape of Water is as enigmatic as its title.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
If you wanted to boil it down and express it in terms Hollywood uses, Guillermo del Toro's film is made up of elements drawn from creature feature love stories in which a creature falls in love with a woman (like King Kong) and any number of B class 50s sci-fi films in which American military find and seek to destroy strange creatures in pursuit of finding it how they tick. Indeed, it is set within reach of the 50s in 1962. The fusion of these elements is given a ribbon of fantasy and through music, a sentimental, romantic hue.
There is cinematic artistry galore here, notably a palpable if alienating sense of the oppressive 50s era, complete with its open racism. There is also much subtlety and sensitivity - which jars with the highly unsubtle characterisations of the bad guys, notably Michael Shannon's hard nosed and violent Richard Strickland, the man in charge of the project (known in good ole military jargon as the 'asset') and his superior, General Hoyt, played with bombastic grunt by Nick Seary.
The screenplay posits that this is a military not a scientific project since the Russians (in good ole Cold War mood) are after the asset. This plot device enables the story to include a Russian spy in the midst of the operation, Dr Robert Hoffstettler, played by the ever excellent Michael Stuhlbarg.
But it's the central duo of the mute Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins, superb) and her neighbouring friend, the illustrator, Giles (Richard Jenkins, outstanding) who engage us as two outsiders, powerless and vulnerable, whose humanity is drawn out by the extraordinary that emerges in their midst. Octavia Spencer plays ... well, Octavia Spencer, as Elisa's co-worker, confidante, collaborator.
For all its many accomplishments, the film falls a little short. I am not often enough moved by the film, and not entirely engaged to let it flow through my subconscious, as perhaps intended. Perhaps that's because of the two lovers, the amphibian creature is more of a symbol than a character with whom to make a connection. The metaphor of love across the species being more powerful than trivial human pursuits is well enough expressed, but a love story requires more from a creature than excellent prosthetics.
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SHAPE OF WATER, THE (MA15+)
CAST: Sally Hawkins, Octavia Spencer, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Michael Stuhlbarg, Doug Jones, Nick Searcy
PRODUCER: J. Miles Dale, Guillermo del Toro
DIRECTOR: Guillermo del Toro
SCRIPT: Guillermo del Toro, Vanessa Taylor
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Dan Laustsen
EDITOR: Sidney Wolinsky
MUSIC: Alexandre Desplat
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Paul D. Austerberry
RUNNING TIME: 123 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: 20th Century Fox
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: January 18, 2018 (special advance screenings January 12, 13, 14)