The Shape of Water was one of those films that managed to take me by surprise. As with many films nominated during Oscar season, there are many of which that don’t seem to grab my interest. This was one of those films. I am a fan of Gullermo del Toro, but not all of his films stuck with me. Yet, I was uniquely surprised just how the film grabbed me visually and by the performances of the actors. This was a film that I managed to view twice.
Simplistically, it is Beauty and the Beast meets Creature of the Black Lagoon. I hate using other films to describe one (see my screenwriting blog), but this is one of those types of films. The descriptions are lacking as the film is stunningly shot, beautifully performed, and well-paced. While many may consider del Toro’s forte to be in science-fiction and horror, he manages to tell a beautiful story in his own comfortable environment.
Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins) is a night janitor are a science facility. She is mute and has a talkative friend Zelda Fuller (Octavia Spencer). One night, a strange amphibious creature (Doug Jones) is brought in for experimentation. Elisa develops a relationship with the creature, who is being tortured by Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon).
Again, it cannot be said enough about how beautifully the film is shot. Slow moving pans. Framing of scenes, and its use of shadows. The movie moved at a quick pace, still allowing the story to grow and characters to have their moments. At a few minutes over two hours, it is impressive on how the movie keeps your interest. Which is even faster on the second viewing.
Hawkins is a masterful actor in the film. Conveying emotion through her face, with some beautiful sign language. She is more deserving of the best actress nomination. Spencer is always a strong and hilarious actress. Her solidarity to Elisa and between right and wrong makes her a gem on screen. Richard Jenkins is a personal favorite. His turn as Giles, a man that has lost all sense of time and realizes that he is not as young as he used to be. Alone, unhappy, and gay in the sixties makes it a tough existence.
Michael Stuhlbarg is a treat in this film. The man has been receiving a lot of work, especially in this Oscar season. He is acting in, at least, three Oscar nominated movies this year. Shannon is the resident creeper. He is oddly compelling in this movie, even though he is still playing the same character he normally plays. Doug Jones has become the new Ron Pearlman for full body make-up. Recently, he is playing Saru in Star Trek: Discovery and crushing it.
The film, itself, is deserving of the Academy recognition it is receiving. With a sweet and simple story, the film manages to capture your imagination with the help of the script, direction, and cast. Alexandre Desplat’s music is compelling and adds to the atmosphere of the film. There is a bit of “fish fucking” in the movie and female nudity, early on. Beyond that, it is a sweet and compelling film. Definitely worth a viewing.