Directed by Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water is both classic monster movie in the vein of those Universal horror films of days gone by and an irregular, yet stunning romance. It does not simply tread the line between the two, but blends them together to create a picture that moves its audience to feel, whether good or bad, for all of its characters. It is a modern fairy tale come to life with two leads much like Beauty and the Beast and it works just as well with a bit of a twist ending that gives its audience exactly what they want to see. When it was all said and done, it might have gone the way as most creature features do, yet del Toro changes things up and it could not have been any better.
What is absolutely delightful about this picture is the fact that everything about it is designed to enchant its audience. From the opening of the film with its quaint little apartments above an old-time movie theatre to the choice of casting to the characters and their little quirks and so on, viewers cannot help but be completely immersed in what del Toro is painting and it makes for one of the most magical outings to hit the big screen in quite some time. Even when it comes to the villain of the piece as played by Michael Shannon, there are a couple of moments where one cannot help but sympathize with the man and even feel good for him, such is the power behind what del Toro has accomplished here and it is no mean feat as Shannon’s character is utterly despicable.
The highlight of it all of course, is the relationship between the creature as portrayed by Doug Jones and cleaning lady Elisa whom Sally Hawkins plays to perfection. What seems to be an odd pairing turns out to be an epic romance on par with any that have come before and to make it even more special is the fact that they do so predominantly in silence, using only sign language and the occasional bit of music. Hawkins is especially amazing considering she had to pretend to be in love with an aquatic monster, one with limited facial expressions but easily able to emote due to the special effects team and the incredible skill of Jones who is no stranger to being in costume. The relationship nearly consumes all around it and that is not a bad thing, yet del Toro still makes time to round it out with meaningful friendships with Octavia Spencer and Richard Jenkins who soon get looped into her desperate plan, a Russian spy and of course, the aforementioned Shannon who is almost manic in his single-mindedness concerning the creature. Everything is woven together under del Toro’s expert direction, each character’s fate tied in with Elisa and the creature until that finale where it all comes to an end in a showdown on a very rainy night.
Aided by Dan Laustsen’s superb cinematography and music that is both haunting and rousing by Alexandre Desplat, The Shape of Water is a modern masterpiece and one of the very best things that del Toro has ever committed to film canon. When Universal finally decides to make horror movies instead of action films with their stable of classic monsters, they should look no further than this picture to see exactly how it is done.
5 out of 5