#REVIEW: “THE SHAPE OF WATER”
Review by David Baldwin for Mr. Will Wong
Mute custodian Eliza (Sally Hawkins) works at a high-tech government facility in 1960’s Baltimore (a nearly-unrecognizable Toronto circa 2016 in real life). The Cold War is heating up, and the US Government have just gotten their hands on a creature they refer to as The Asset (Doug Jones), a fish/human hybrid. Eliza befriends the creature during a gruesome clean-up – and slowly forms a bond that will change both of their lives irrevocably.
I have long believed that Writer/Director Guillermo del Toro was purely a Visual Genre Filmmaker who has have trouble marrying his images to his writing. As you might expect, The Shape of Water is another sumptuously-beautiful feast for the eyes, with each moment dazzling brighter than the last. But to my surprise, the story is actually well done. Yes, it is very simplistic by design and takes a few odd detours (do we really need those weird home life moments from principal villain Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon), but it stays the course and builds into a genuinely emotional and moving Thriller. del Toro and Co-Writer Vanessa Taylor even leave a little bit of room for romance, leading to the most unusual love scenes of the year.
As mentioned, the visuals in The Shape of Water are truly spectacular. del Toro has gone all out here, using everything he has learned in his 20+ years of filmmaking and then some. The Production Design is exquisite, simultaneously melding his love for gothic romance and the macabre with the nostalgia of the 1960s. The colour pops in every scene, no matter if we are in Eliza’s sprawling apartment or in the sterile government facility. The use of water is also quite magnificent, frequently testing and surpassing any expectations. It practically becomes a character all in itself. While del Toro is almost reckless in his use of dystopic and utopic designs throughout The Shape of Water, everything manages to fit together seamlessly. And seeing Toronto’s Elgin Theatre appear during the Film in all its untouched glory and grandeur is worth the price of admission alone.
While the Supporting Cast features wonderful turns from dedicated Character Actors like Octavia Spencer, Richard Jenkins, Michael Stuhlbarg (his second quietly subtle performance this year after Call Me By Your Name) and the deviously magnificent Shannon, the Film belongs to Hawkins and Jones. Both characters cannot speak, so they rely on their body/sign language and emotions to guide their performances.
Jones has perfected this artform for years under all the make-up and prosthetics del Toro requests, and delights here as the creature who exudes more humanity than almost everyone around him. But Hawkins is even better, giving everything she has to Eliza’s journey of self-discovery. From the very start, we are captivated by the little nuances of her performance, which tell us more than words ever could. The way she expresses sheer joy and bitter sadness using only her eyes is simply stunning to watch. She draws us into her world in a way that makes us yearn for her any time she is not on-screen, and gives us a character you will not soon forget.
The Shape of Water absolutely is a beautiful Film and one of the year’s best. It may sound like blasphemy for fans of Pan’s Labyrinth, but this may be del Toro’s true masterwork as a Filmmaker. It is his most emotional, vulnerable and mature work to date, and will be very hard to top in the years to come. The visuals are stunning, the story is great and the performances are unforgettable. This Movie has stuck with me since TIFF, and I have no doubt it will leave the same kind of impression on anyone who sees it now.
Fox Searchlight release THE SHAPE OF WATER in Toronto on Friday, December 8, 2017,
in Vancouver on Friday, December 15, 2017 and across Canada on Friday, December 22, 2017.