Film Review: The Shape of Water

Updated on February 7, 2018
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Review written by: Josh Kristianto, Film Frenzy Contributing Writer.

Background

In 2017, Guillermo del Toro released The Shape of Water which starred Sally Hawkins, Doug Jones, Michael Shannon, Octavia Spencer, Michael Stuhlbarg, Richard Jenkins, and Lauren Lee Smith. The film has grossed $64.2 million as of Sunday, Feb. 4.

Synopsis

Elisa is living a monotonous life, working as a janitor at a discreet government facility in 1962 Baltimore. One day, she discovers a strange sea creature captured by military scientists who want to learn its secrets. As her sympathy and love for the creature grows, Elisa soon faces the task of helping it escape certain death in the hands of an ambitious government agent.

Review

The Shape of Water is a unique film, to say the very least, thanks wholly to the inventiveness of its co-writer and director, Guillermo del Toro. If the film’s purpose was to widen the imagination, it skillfully achieves that through its characters, set design, cinematography, music, story, and its boldness to go into the unnatural. Whereas the movie soars in its creative vision, the plot ultimately feels very basic. This may detract from the movie’s overall grip on the audience, but it does enough elsewhere to keep it interesting all the way to the end.

After a relatively enigmatic start, the audience is soon introduced to the quirky and silent Elisa, played superbly by Hawkins. This character plays a large role in how the entire movie feels and looks. The music heightens the feelings Elisa displays throughout the movie, a sort of reserved personality yet full of wonder, curiosity, and longing. The filmmakers do a great job portraying the charm of Elisa, using her plain dress style and looks to the humdrum routine of her daily life as a platform to launch the rest of the plot. She doesn’t speak in most of the film, adding to her uniqueness. Further, it ultimately explains why Elisa deeply connects with the sea creature almost instantly.

The film features a strong, experienced cast, and their performances elevate the movie to another level. The characters themselves are slightly one-dimensional, especially the relentless government agent Richard Strickland, who goes down all the way to the end unreformed. However, this fact doesn’t take away anything from the film’s entertainment value. In fact, due to the reliable consistency of the characters, the audience can focus on the plot developments and twists. Richard Jenkins, who portrays the character Giles, does well as the comedic relief in the film. Giles also acts as a sort of father figure for Elisa, and their relationship provides another charming aspect for audiences.

The look and feel of the movie itself is half of what makes the story so compelling. Viewers become engrossed in the glittering ornaments of an apartment room, the dingy hallways of the government lab, and the slick look of nighttime Baltimore. The varying camera angles help generate some of the magic and mystery the story needs to work. No scene felt visually boring; certainly one of the strongest visuals of the film came during the water-filled bathroom scene. The convincing CGI brings the sea creature to life, giving this character texture and realism even as it remains otherworldly.

The relationship between Elisa and the sea creature could range from weird to disgusting depending on how each viewer feels about “interspecies” romance. Certainly, the whole thing barely passes as realistic, helped by what the filmmakers reveal about Elisa. Nonetheless, it seems the whole point of the story is to show how love can come in all different forms. Portraying a woman who cannot speak falling in love with a creature who cannot speak either gets this point across to the audience. Regardless of how viewers react initially to this unique love, in the end, the story ends on the right notes bringing the symphony to a proper, satisfying finish.

4 stars for The Shape of Water

Awards & Recognitions

Bold indicates reception of award/recognition

Academy Awards

  • Best Achievement in Directing
  • Best Motion Picture of the Year
  • Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role (Sally Hawkins)
  • Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role (Richard Jenkins)
  • Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role (Octavia Spencer)
  • Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Score)
  • Best Original Screenplay
  • Best Achievement in Cinematography
  • Best Achievement in Costume Design
  • Best Achievement in Sound Editing
  • Best Achievement in Sound Mixing
  • Best Achievement in Film Editing
  • Best Achievement in Production Design

AACTA International Awards

  • Best Film
  • Best Direction
  • Best Lead Actress (Sally Hawkins)

AFI Awards

  • Movie of the Year

African-American Film Critics Association

  • Top Ten Films (Seventh Place)

Alliance of Women Film Journalists – EDA Awards

  • AWFJ EDA Award – Best Film
  • AWFJ EDA Award – Best Director
  • Best Picture
  • Best Director
  • EDA Special Mention Award – Bravest Performance (Sally Hawkins)
  • AWFJ EDA Award – Best Actress (Sally Hawkins)
  • AWFJ EDA Award – Best Cinematography
  • AWFJ EDA Award – Best Cinematography
  • AWFJ EDA Award – Best Editing
  • Best Actress (Sally Hawkins)
  • Best Cinematography
  • Best Editing

American Cinema Editors, USA – Eddie Awards

  • Best Edited Feature Film – Dramatic

American Society of Cinematographers, USA Awards

  • Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography in Theatrical Releases

Art Directors Guild Awards

  • Excellence in Production Design Award – Period Film

Association of Motion Picture Sound – AMPS Feature Film Awards

  • Excellence in Sound for a Feature Film

Austin Film Critics Association Awards

  • Best Director
  • Best Score
  • Special Honorary Award – Doug Jones (for his exemplary body performance)
  • Best Film

Awards Circuit Community Awards

  • Best Motion Picture
  • Best Director
  • Best Actress in a Leading Role (Sally Hawkins)
  • Best Original Screenplay
  • Best Cast Ensemble
  • Best Cinematography
  • Best Production Design
  • Best Costume Design
  • Best Original Score

BAFTA Awards

  • Best Screenplay
  • Best Costume Design
  • Best Editing
  • Best Production Design
  • Original Music
  • Best Film
  • Best Cinematography
  • Best Supporting Actress (Octavia Spencer)
  • Best Leading Actress (Sally Hawkins)
  • Best Sound
  • Best Achievement in Special Visual Effects
  • David Lean Award for Direction

Black Reel Awards

  • Outstanding Supporting Actress, Motion Picture (Octavia Spencer)

Boston Online Film Critics Association Awards

  • Best Original Score
  • Ten Best Films of the Year (Seventh Place)

Boston Society of Film Critics Awards

  • Best Actress (Sally Hawkins)
  • Best Film
  • Best Director
  • Best Original Score
  • Best Picture

Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards

  • Best Score
  • Best Production Design
  • Best Picture
  • Best Director
  • Best Actress (Sally Hawkins)
  • Best Supporting Actor (Richard Jenkins)
  • Best Supporting Actress (Octavia Spencer)
  • Best Original Screenplay
  • Best Cinematography
  • Best Visual Effects
  • Best Sci-Fi/Horror Movie
  • Best Hair & Makeup
  • Best Costume Design
  • Best Editing

Casting Society of America, USA – Artios Awards

  • Outstanding Achievement in Casting – Studio or Independent Feature – Drama

Central Ohio Film Critics Association Awards

  • Best Actress (Sally Hawkins)
  • Best Score
  • Actor of the Year (Sally Hawkins)
  • Best Picture
  • Best Director
  • Best Supporting Actor (Richard Jenkins)
  • Best Cinematography
  • Best Film Editing

Chicago Film Critics Association Awards

  • Best Picture
  • Best Director
  • Best Actress (Sally Hawkins)
  • Best Art Direction/Production Design
  • Best Original Score
  • Best Cinematography

Chlotrudis Awards

  • Best Actress (Sally Hawkins)
  • Best Cinematography
  • Best Performance by an Ensemble Cast
  • Best Production Design
  • Best Supporting Actor (Richard Jenkins)

Cinema Audio Society, USA Awards

  • Outstanding Achievement in Sound Mixing for Motion Pictures – Live Action

Costume Designers Guild Awards

  • Excellence in Period Film

Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association Awards

  • Best Picture
  • Best Actress (Sally Hawkins)
  • Best Director
  • Best Cinematography
  • Best Musical Score
  • Best Supporting Actor (Richard Jenkins)
  • Best Supporting Actress (Octavia Spencer)
  • Best Screenplay

Detroit Film Critic Society, US Awards

  • Best Film
  • Best Director
  • Best Actress (Sally Hawkins)
  • Best Supporting Actor (Richard Jenkins)
  • Best Screenplay
  • Best Use of Music

Directors Guild of America, USA Awards

  • Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures

Evening Standard British Film Awards

  • Best Actress (Sally Hawkins)

Florida Film Critics Circle Awards

  • Best Film
  • Best Director
  • Best Actress (Sally Hawkins)
  • Best Original Screenplay
  • Best Cinematography
  • Best Art Direction/Production Design
  • Best Score
  • Best Visual Effects
  • Best Ensemble

Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association – Dorian Awards

  • Film Performance of the Year – Actress (Sally Hawkins)
  • Visually Striking Film of the Year
  • Film of the Year
  • Director of the Year (Film or Television)
  • Supporting Film Performance of the Year – Actor (Richard Jenkins)
  • Screenplay of the Year

Golden Globe Awards

  • Best Director – Motion Picture
  • Best Original Score – Motion Picture
  • Best Motion Picture – Drama
  • Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama (Sally Hawkins)
  • Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture (Richard Jenkins)
  • Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture (Octavia Spencer)
  • Best Screenplay – Motion Picture

Heartland Film

  • Truly Moving Picture Award

Hollywood Film Awards

  • Editor of the Year

Hollywood Makeup Artist and Hair Stylist Guild Awards

  • Best Special Makeup Effects – Feature-Length Motion Picture

Houston Film Critics Society Awards

  • Best Actress (Sally Hawkins)
  • Best Original Score
  • Best Poster Design
  • Best Picture
  • Best Director
  • Best Supporting Actor (Richard Jenkins)
  • Best Supporting Actress (Octavia Spencer)
  • Best Cinematography
  • Best Visual Effects

Indiana Film Journalists Association, US Awards

  • Best Musical Score
  • Best Picture
  • Best Director
  • Best Supporting Actor (Doug Jones)

Indiewire Critics’ Poll Awards

  • Best Film
  • Best Cinematography
  • Best Lead Actress

Iowa Film Critics Awards

  • Best Picture
  • Best Director
  • Best Actress (Sally Hawkins)
  • Best Original Score

Kansas City Film Critics Circle Awards

  • Best Director
  • Best Actress (Sally Hawkins)

Las Vegas Film Critics Society Awards

  • Best Director
  • Best Score
  • Best Picture
  • Best Art Direction

London Critics Circle Film Awards

  • British/Irish Actress of the Year (Sally Hawkins)
  • Film of the Year
  • Director of the Year
  • Actress of the Year (Sally Hawkins)

Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards

  • Best Cinematography
  • Best Actress (Sally Hawkins)
  • Best Director
  • Best Music
  • Best Production Design

Motion Picture Sound Editors, USA – Golden Reel Awards

  • Outstanding Achievement in Sound Editing – Music Score for Feature Film
  • Outstanding Achievement in Sound Editing – Dialogue and ADR For Feature Film
  • Outstanding Achievement in Sound Editing – Sound Effects and Foley for Feature Film

National Scoeity of Film Critics Awards, USA

  • Best Actress (Sally Hawkins)
  • Best Supporting Actor (Michael Stuhlbarg)

Nevada Film Critics Society Awards

  • Best Actress (Sally Hawkins)
  • Best Director
  • Best Production Design

New York Film Critics Circle, Online Awards

  • Best Cinematography
  • Top Films of the Year

North Carolina Film Critics Association

  • Best Actress (Sally Hawkins)
  • Best Narrative Film
  • Best Cinematography
  • Best Special Effects

North Texas Film Critics Association, US Awards

  • Best Director
  • Best Supporting Actress (Octavia Spencer)
  • Best Picture
  • Best Cinematography

Oklahoma Film Critics Circle Awards

  • Best Actress (Sally Hawkins)
  • Best Body of Work (Michael Stuhlbarg)
  • Best Film
  • Best Director

Online Film & Television Association Film Awards

  • Best Actress (Sally Hawkins)
  • Best Supporting Actor (Richard Jenkins)
  • Best Supporting Actress (Octavia Spencer)
  • Best Ensemble
  • Best Director
  • Best Titles Sequence
  • Best Picture
  • Best Casting
  • Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen
  • Best Music, Original Score
  • Best Music, Adapted Song (For the song “You’ll Never Know.”)
  • Best Film Editing
  • Best Cinematography
  • Best Production Design
  • Best Costume Design
  • Best Makeup and Hairstyling
  • Best Sound Mixing
  • Best Sound Effects Editing
  • Best Visual Effects
  • Best Movie Poster

Online Film Critics Society Awards

  • Best Actress (Sally Hawkins)
  • Best Picture
  • Best Director
  • Best Original Screenplay
  • Best Supporting Actor (Richard Jenkins)
  • Best Cinematography
  • Best Ensemble

Palm Springs International Film Festival

  • Chairman’s Vanguard Award

PGA Awards

  • Outstanding Producer of Theatrical Motion Pictures

Philadelphia Film Critics Circle Awards

  • Best Actress (Sally Hawkins)

Phoenix Critics Circle Awards

  • Best Picture
  • Best Actress (Sally Hawkins)
  • Best Science Fiction Film
  • Best Supporting Actor (Richard Jenkins)
  • Best Director
  • Best Score

Phoenix Film Critics Society Awards

  • Best Picture
  • Best Director
  • Best Production Design
  • Best Original Score
  • Best Actress in a Leading Role (Sally Hawkins)
  • Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Michael Shannon)
  • Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Richard Jenkins)
  • Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Octavia Spencer)
  • Best Original Screenplay
  • Best Cinematography
  • Best Film Editing
  • Best Costume Design
  • Best Visual Effects
  • Best Ensemble Acting

San Diego Film Critics Society Awards

  • Best Production Design
  • Best Body of Work (Michael Stuhlbarg)
  • Best Director
  • Best Actress (Sally Hawkins)
  • Best Director
  • Best Editing
  • Best Cinematography
  • Best Visual Effects
  • Best Costume Design
  • Best Use of Music in a Film

San Francisco Film Critics Circle Awards

  • Best Director
  • Best Production Design
  • Best Picture
  • Best Actress (Sally Hawkins)
  • Best Supporting Actor (Richard Jenkins)
  • Best Cinematography
  • Best Film Editing
  • Best Screenplay, Original
  • Best Original Score

Satellite Awards

  • Best Motion Picture
  • Best Actress in a Motion Picture (Sally Hawkins)
  • Best Director
  • Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Michael Shannon)
  • Best Screenplay, Original
  • Best Original Score
  • Best Cinematography
  • Best Visual Effects
  • Best Film Editing
  • Best Art Direction & Production Design

Screen Actors Guild Awards

  • Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role (Sally Hawkins)
  • Best Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role (Richard Jenkins)

Seattle Film Critics Awards

  • Best Actress (Sally Hawkins)
  • Best Supporting Actor (Michael Shannon)
  • Best Cinematography
  • Best Costume Design
  • Best Production Design
  • Best Visual Effects
  • Best Villain (Michael Shannon as Richard Strickland)

Society of Camera Operators

  • Camera Operator of the Year Award – Feature Film

Southeastern Film Critics Association Awards

  • Best Actress (Sally Hawkins)
  • Best Director
  • Best Picture

St. Louis Film Critics Association, US Awards

  • Best Film
  • Best Director
  • Best Supporting Actor (Richard Jenkins)
  • Best Original Screenplay
  • Best Production Design
  • Best Actress (Sally Hawkins)
  • Best Supporting Actor (Michael Shannon)
  • Best Supporting Actress (Octavia Spencer)
  • Best Cinematography
  • Best Editing
  • Best Visual Effects
  • Best Score

Toronto Film Critics Association Awards

  • Best Actress (Sally Hawkins)

Utah Film Critics Association Awards

  • Best Actress (Sally Hawkins)
  • Best Original Score

Vancouver Film Critics Circle Awards

  • Best Actress (Sally Hawkins)

Venice Film Festival Awards

  • CICT-UNSCO C. Smithers Foundation Award
  • Future Film Festival Digital Award
  • Golden Lion – Best Film
  • Soundtrack Stars Award – Best Soundtrack

Washington DC Area Film Critics Association Awards

  • Best Director
  • Best Actress (Sally Hawkins)
  • Best Original Screenplay
  • Best Production Design
  • Best Cinematography
  • Best Editing
  • Best Original Score

Women Film Critics Circle Awards

  • Best Actress (Sally Hawkins)
  • Best Female Action Hero
  • Best Screen Couple

Writers Guild of America, USA Awards

  • Original Screenplay

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