Review: The Shape of Water

A month from today, the UK will be hit with the film that’s taking the awards world by storm, The Shape of Water, so the important question is: will it be worth the hype when you finally get to see it on the big screen? Read on and find the answer…

Written and directed by Guillermo del Toro, the infamous man behind cult favourites Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth and Pacific Rim, as well as the utterly underappreciated, creatively creepy Crimson Peak. Starring Sally Hawkins, Octavia Spencer, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Michael Stuhlbarg and Doug Jones; at a top secret research facility in the 1960s, a lonely janitor forms a unique relationship with an amphibious creature that is being held in captivity. 

As the film begins you’re flooded with French music provided by composer, Alexandre Desplat (The Grand Budapest Hotel, Argo, Moonrise Kingdom), lovingly playing alongside a curious visual, which perfectly sets up the unusual cinematic journey that lies ahead. If ever there was a film that will leave even the most committed of cinephiles not knowing what to expect, it’s The Shape of Water, before long you will be delightfully baffled by the sheer variety of elements and moments that bring the film together. There’s a huge irony in the fact that certain aspects of the story, you can see coming before they happen but that they are included in the film is wholly unpredictable, it’s almost, to quote Vizzini, inconceivable! Yet a perfect imbalance.

An imbalance that transcends your typical genres and creates a blend of its own, del Toro has taken a potentially clichéd underdog romance and turned it into one of the most visually and thematically creative films of recent years. As an audience, you experience the thick air of frustration, repression, paranoia and prejudice that are synonymous with life in 1960s America and despite that, the film still has a futuristic aesthetic. An achievement that is in no small part, thanks to the brilliant work in costume, hair, make-up and everything that went into creating Doug Jones‘ appearance as the fantastic Amphibian Man that appears on screen, as well as the lab he inhabits.

However, despite his impressively convincing appearance, it won’t be Jones’ scaled physique which you won’t be able to take your eyes off, it will be Sally Hawkins‘ portrayal of Elisa, the mute cleaner that is hiding an eccentric, fascinating woman behind her shy exterior. Whether or not audiences walk into The Shape of Water as a fan of Hawkins, they will leave in awe of her magnificent performance; the actress gives more without uttering a single word than some have with films overbrimming with monologues. The actress has enamored audiences before with the lovable Mary who takes in Paddington, the delightfully unconventional Poppy in Happy-Go-Lucky, and the unstoppable Rita in Made in Dagenham, but this role is like no other and this British treasure has plenty of tricks left up her sleeve. Whereas Michael Shannon may have lured you under his spell with his Christmas jumpers and surprising Hawaiian shirts, he’s back with a bite, ready to set you on edge and fear the man behind the government issued suit. On the other hand, it is a shame that Octavia Spencer appears yet again in a role that doesn’t quite give her the space to show off her talent but regardless, she’s a great choice and addition to the cast; with determination, humour and an underlying strength and loyalty that is a wholly worthwhile addition to the film.

One of the bonus qualities of the film, is that it so clearly expresses a love of cinema, not only will you see hints of films you love but Elisa living above an actual cinema is such an overt homage to the art form, that del Toro is putting his heart on his sleeve. An act which very well describes how this film comes across, it’s a laboriously, passionately, created love letter that will pull you into a world that you never knew existed and you won’t want to leave. A visual wonder which is aided by a sublimely created score by Desplat, which perfectly accompanies the film.

While The Shape of Water flirts with the darkness long enough to tantalize, in the end it always returns to the light bringing love, hope and an utterly enjoyable eccentric charm. Without further ado, the answer to the original question, will it be worth the hype? Yes! Add 14th February to your calendars (yes, it’s also Valentine’s Day but make a date with The Shape of Water) and see the glorious world that del Toro has created, dancing on the big screen and fall head over heels with the sheer beauty of it, from start to finish.

Verdict: 10/10


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