The Shape of Water: a review

My whole family was eagerly anticipating the wide release of this film after reading and hearing so many positive reviews upon its limited release earlier this month. In preparation, we recently visited the Art Gallery of Ontario‘s exhibit devoted to Guillermo del Toro. This film’s writer/director/producer  is a favourite of ours. So when we had to drive 30 min to see this film at an art house cinema in a neighbouring city after a heavy snowfall; we didn’t hesitate.

This film is a cinematic delight. Set in 1962, this is a fairy tale about outsiders navigating love and friendship.

Sally Hawkins plays Elisa, a mute cleaner at a top secret U.S. government facility. She lives next door to her gbf Giles (Richard Jenkins) above a movie theatre. They share a quiet understanding of their mutual struggles in the world they share.  She and her friend and colleague, Zelda (Octavia Spencer), discover that the facility they work in has imprisoned a creature who can best be described as a man-like fish (Doug Jones hidden under elaborate prosthetics). Elisa soon realizes that this creature is sentient and we watch them develop a rapport. However, when Elisa learns that the creature is being mistreated by the facility’s director, played by Michael Shannon, she enlists her friends to help her intervene. What follows is a deeper understanding and respect as this group desperately races to save the creature from those wanting to destroy him. Those would be the U.S. government and the Soviet spies who learn of his existence.

This film combines elements of romance, thriller and horror to great effect. The fairy tale nature of the story renders many of the plot points predictable, but that is easily forgiven, as there is such beauty in the acting, set design and cinematography.  My only complaint is that other than Sally Hawkin’s Elisa, we really learn very little about the other characters in this film. The supporting characters are rather cartoonish in juxtaposition to the nuanced portrayal of Elisa.

If you are a fan of del Toro’s previous works, such as Pan’s Labyrinth, as my family is, this film won’t disappoint you. It was worth the wait and the drive.

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