Much has been made already of Guillermo Del Toro’s latest film The Shape of Water. At Venice standing ovations and tears and plaudits of ‘never seen anything like it’ showered upon it. I always find when entering a screening with that amount of pre-conceived adoration that one may well exit with crushing disappointment (I’m looking at you LaLa Land). To add to my already nervous state, the film started twenty minutes late and only when a member of the public started shooting in a outraged fashion did the projectionist wake and up and roll film.
I am a huge fan of Del Toro, he makes beautiful, ethereal films that stay with the audience long after the final credits and that is very much what he has created in The Shape of Water. A 60’s Cold War noir thriller meets monster story where the creature gets the girl. Or actually the girl gets the creature. The unlikely heroine of The Shape of Water is the tiny, mute Eliza Esperenza who is a cleaner at the mysterious laboratory alongside Zelda, the always-fabulous Octavia Spencer, one of Eliza’s two friends.
Eliza has a strict routine to her day. She wakes up at the same time each day, has a bath, masturbates in said bath, boils some eggs, cleans her shoes, feeds her neighbour and best friend, Giles (fabulous Richard Jenkins) and gets to work. Late. Where Zelda signs her in. Eliza’s life becomes a LOT more interesting however with the arrival of a new ‘asset’ at the laboratory and a new manager with it, in the malevolent shape of the terrifying and mesmeric Michael Shannon. The ‘asset’ turns out to be a hybrid merman that can breathe and, as Eliza discovers, is intelligent and has emotions. Eliza begins a beautiful relationship with the creature all the while the Russians are trying to either steal it or have it killed and Michael Shannon is either getting his fingers bitten off by it or also plotting to kill it. With the help of Giles Eliza hatches a plan to extricate the creature (he never gets named) and her love affair deepens within the confines of her tatty apartment bathroom.
Sally Hawkins is, of course, the perfect person to play this Eliza. Her diminutive stature, her balletic posture and fluidity of movement means that the mundane tasks Eliza undertakes are like a dance. Indeed amongst the noir thriller undertones are old-fashioned musicals. There are utterly delightful moments such as Eliza and Giles tapping away whilst eating sandwiches and watching musicals and Eliza dancing with a mop and bucket for the creature. There is nostalgia and music infused throughout the film. The rest of the cast are simply perfect. Michael Shannon is divinely hateable as the vile Strickland, Octavia Spencer pitches punchy Zelda just right and Richard Jenkins is simply heart breaking as revering alcoholic, gay best friend Giles.
One can assume with a Del Toro film that it is going to look spectacular and The Shape f Water most certainly does. Many scenes are unlike anything I’ve seen before. Imaginative and hypnotic visuals coupled with a fairy tale heart. It is breath taking and one can completely immerse oneself within the bewitching and spellbinding world.
Del Toro challenges many stereotypes of the time throughout the film. Michael Shannon’s Strickland is a misogynistic, racist bully the kind that were ten a penny in that time in management. Giles encounters homophobia at a local pie shop where he admires the worker. Of course in it’s very nature. The Shape Of Water is making us root for the underdog, the weird ones, the outsiders . It is heart-breaking romantic, luscious and life affirming and in this current crazy world, well, ain’t that grand.