The word for The Shape of Water is beautiful. It is a treat.
Director: Guillermo del Toro (Lantana)
Starring: Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine), Octavia Spencer (The Help), Michael Shannon (Revolutionary Road)
Runtime: 123 minutes
Australian Classification: MA15+
Elisa (Sally Hawkins) is mute – she can hear you, but finds herself ‘incomplete’. With Zelda (Octavia Spencer) beside her, together they work amoungst an army of cleaners, polishing a hidden government laboratory.
Pulling from multiple genres, tackling the tangible yet ethereal connection between human and sea creature, The Shape of Water gives audiences a sweet, confronting, comic and powerful ride through an adventure bound together by seamless cinematography and throwbacks to the 1960s.
The feat that The Shape of Water pulls off is one of deceptively simple proportions. Think hard and you’ll come to appreciate the complexities beneath the surface.
This film is a love story to be remembered – evolving from the purest form of love: friendship. Elisa and her creature do not begin as equals, and in many ways Elisa remains the ‘carer’, but between them there is understanding.
Director Guillermo del Toro, best known for Lantana, sneaks in some violence-fueled intrigue and strong yet fleeting allusions to the power of blood on screen. But as he does so he builds a menacing story.
Who you emphasise with as a result is down to whether you see the sadness in the creatures’ eyes, Elisa’s pleas or the Dr.’s pursuit to keep the government and their experiments far away from the marvellous sea being…then you can all rally against head-honcho Mr. Strickland’s (Michael Shannon) vile manner fuelled by revenge, profit and power.
As a cast, each and every character delivers. With a striking attention to detail, Del Toro has strung together storylines and built strong points of focus when one’s attention is pulled from Elisa’s angst at keeping the creature safe, to the efforts of her neighbour Giles to make his quaint illustrations live up to photographic quality.
And then there is water – bath water, boiling water, rain. The sound of water, its recurrence and the way it is illuminatingly shot pushes away the cold, clinical environment of the laboratory.
Elisa takes something so simple – a boiled egg from her daily routine – and transforms it into a peace offering. Then, it becomes so much more than that: an instigator of friendship and a symbol of a life and routine now shared.
Everything about the aesthetic of this film has elegance. Elisa’s apartment and that of her neighbour, the diners of the 60s, Baltimore, the blue hues that speak to water, uniform and aquatic life, the old cinema and the creature with his scales, intricate yellow orbs and trickles of neon blue that appear on his skin.
While it is hard to want this film to end, the ending leaves you shaken by recent events but utterly in love with the love of two characters. Sally Hawkins’ exceptional performance as Elisa ignites deep empathy.
The Shape of Water has spirit and brings fantasy creatures into a new realm. They are to be understood, loved and celebrated. Together, del Toro and Elisa give audiences the ultimate gift: a lesson in cinematography and the depth of emotion.