Release date: 14th February 2018/Watch the trailer here
Written and directed by Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water tells the story of Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins), a mute woman who works as a cleaner in a top-secret, high-security government laboratory in 1960s Baltimore. Although she has two close friends in the form of her next-door neighbour, Giles (Richard Jenkins), and her co-worker, Zelda (Octavia Spencer), Elisa lives a relatively isolated existence – until her life changes forever when she discovers the lab’s biggest secret: an amphibious creature (played by Doug Jones) that is imprisoned inside a water tank. Elisa soon develops a unique bond with the mysterious creature, but she isn’t the only one with an interest in him. She must protect the creature from those seeking to exploit him – including government agent Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon) and the Soviets, both of whom hope to use him to their country’s advantage in the Space Race.
With The Shape of Water, del Toro has crafted a genre-defying fairytale: fantasy, romance and horror in equal measure. At the centre of it all is an incredible performance from Sally Hawkins, who powerfully conveys a plethora of emotions through facial expressions and sign language alone, bringing Elisa to fully-formed, three-dimensional life without so much as uttering a single syllable. But while The Shape of Water is undeniably Hawkins’ film, the supporting actors are by no means slacking, either: Michael Shannon makes for a deplorable villain, but it is Richard Jenkins who is the most noteworthy as Giles, who, as a closeted gay man and a struggling illustrator, encapsulates the film’s themes of isolation and loneliness just as much as Elisa does. It would have been all too easy for del Toro to write Giles as a series of clichés, but he is a complex, nuanced and infinitely likeable character, and while Jenkins’ performance may be more understated than Hawkins’, it is no less powerful.
These well-written, well-developed characters inhabit a world that is just as whimsical and fantastical as The Shape of Water‘s storybook romance. It’s a film that’s a treat for all of the senses: from the exquisite costume and production design to the stunning cinematography and a wonderfully charming score from Alexandre Desplat. The visual choices in The Shape of Water are just as ambiguous and open to interpretation as the plot and characters: for instance, the use of the colours green and red and the meaning behind their usage could be discussed for hours on end without ever coming to a firm conclusion.
But for all of the endless conversation that The Shape of Water could inspire, there’s very little that can be said about it in mere words alone that could ever do such a strange, sublime film justice. It may be a fairytale love story at heart, but there’s a little something in this film for everyone: romance, occasional moments of shocking, gruesome violence, contrasting humour, and even a black and white musical number. It’s a peculiar mixture of elements that have no reason to work well together, but del Toro’s magic touch effortlessly blends them with style and confidence. An awful lot of heart and soul has been poured into The Shape of Water, and this manifests itself as the cinematic equivalent of a warm bath or a comforting hug: it’s the sort of experience that you can’t quite put into words, but you know that in that moment, you don’t ever want it to end.