Review - The Shape of Water

The Shape of Water (2017), R, 2hr 3min - Writer/Director Guillermo del Toro has long been one of my favorite directors.  I've enjoyed all of his projects that I have seen, with Pan's Labyrinth (2006) topping the list.  Since then, he's gone on to work on bigger films (and countless other projects that have not seen completion for a variety of reasons), so when I first saw the trailer for The Shape of Water, I was very excited.  It appeared as though del Toro was taking a step back from the big budget world and giving us another adult fairy-tale period piece, a feel that helped make Pan's Labyrinth as great as it was.

The Shape of Water takes place in Baltimore during the 1960s Cold War era, and revolves around Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins), a mute woman (due to a childhood neck injury) who works as a janitor at a secret government facility.  She lives alone in an apartment above an old movie theater and only interacts with her neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins) and co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer) via sign language.  Her day to day life is extremely routine, with nothing out of the ordinary.  One day a new head of security, Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon), arrives at the facility along with The Asset, an amphibious humanoid that was captured in South America (played by frequent del Toro collaborator Doug Jones).  The Asset has been moved to the facility in efforts to study it while also keeping it hidden from the Russians.  As it turns out, the lab The Asset is kept in falls under Elisa and Zelda's perview.  Elisa discovers The Asset while making her rounds one day and, as neither can speak, begins attempting to communicate via sign and polite gestures like bringing him food.  She develops a rapport with him and begins to secretly sneak into the lab for visits, often spending her lunch break there and even going so far as to bring a record player in order to share music.  Meanwhile, Strickland, who is a cold, unfeeling man, continues to treat The Asset as a violent beast (as far as Strickland is concerned, it did attack him, cutting off two of his fingers), keeping him chained and repeatedly poking him with a cattle prod. There's also a third party at work here as well: Dr. Robert Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg), who is torn between his desire to humanely learn about The Asset as a scientist and his duties to his mother country as a Russian spy.

I love that del Toro made another 'small' film so to speak.  He utilizes a wonderful cast (led by Hawkins, her ability to portray such a range of emotion in a non-speaking role is amazing) and a beautiful score from Alexandre Desplat in order to create a heartfelt monster movie/love story/fairy-tale concoction that is masterfully crafted.  It has an R rating for nudity, language, and a bit of violence (there is one scene involving a cat so animal lovers beware) and is definitely not a film for the kiddos.  As is often the case with Guillermo del Toro's work, everything is done deliberately, so if something seems odd or out of place, just keep watching because it inevitably sets up something else later in the film. 

As much as I love them, I feel like Guillermo del Toro's works tend to fall into the category of 'not for everyone'.  Mainly because his subject matter tends to be period pieces with fantastical elements.  This may seem like common sense, but in this case I feel like you get a very good feel for the film from the trailer.  If you're intrigued by it, then definitely find a way to see The Shape of Water.  If not, you're probably better served looking for something else to check out instead.  This film has been in wide release for a couple of weeks now, but may take a little effort to find in your area (around here it is only playing in the local art house theater).


I am very much looking forward to this film's home release as Guillermo del Toro always provides great insight to his film making process in commentaries and behind the scenes clips.

- As I mentioned above, there are a number of small details that del Toro revisits throughout the film.  One example is the art for the Jell-O print add that Giles is working on throughout the film.  Originally the Jell-o was green but he was instructed to make it red because it was a 'more happy' color. Towards the end of the film, there is a shot of Strickland at home with his family (as everything is falling apart) and there's a plate of red Jell-O on the table, which is funny because at this point, he is decidedly unhappy.

- 'The Asset' is very reminiscent of another character portrayed by Doug Jones in two previous Guillermo del Toro films: Abe Sapien from Hellboy (2004) and Hellboy: The Golden Army (2008).


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