“The Shape of Water”: A Millennial’s Movie Review

Updated on December 4, 2017
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Nick is a fresh university graduate with a deep interest in film and cinema, dreaming of one day being a successful film pundit.

You’ll Never Know…

The Shape of Water is a romantic drama with fantasy elements. The film is directed by fan-favourite Guillermo del Toro, and stars Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Doug Jones, and Octavia Spencer. Our story takes place in 1962 Baltimore, where we follow Eliza (Hawkins), a mute woman who works as a cleaner in a cutting-edge research facility. When a strange amphibious man (Jones) is brought into the facility to be studied, an unlikely romance is struck between him and Eliza. Meanwhile, the sadistic and determined Strickland (Shannon) forcefully attempts to unlock the secrets behind the amphibious man’s origin, using methods that grow increasingly vicious and gruesome.

Director Guillermo del Toro is well known for his imaginative creatures and world-building, a trait well-recognised by moviegoers in the early 2000s. From the Spanish-speaking modern classic Pan’s Labyrinth, to the Kaiju-clashing Pacific Rim, del Toro’s star still shines brightly to this day, despite not holding the clout of a Scorsese or Spielberg. Many viewers will also recognise big stars such as Michael Shannon and Octavia Spencer, both looking to follow up from their 2017 Oscar nominations with a 2018 one. Meanwhile, lead actress Sally Hawkins will undoubtedly have her previous Academy nomination fresh in mind. But can she steal the show without speaking a word?

Initial Thoughts

The Shape of Water accumulated huge awards buzz after debuting at the 2017 Venice Film Festival, winning the prestigious Golden Lion, the award for Best Film. While the film itself is far from the best of 2017 in my humble opinion, it does a fantastic job of drawing the viewer into a beautiful world with compelling characters and a heartwarming story. Sally Hawkins gives a uniquely wonderful lead performance, while Michael Shannon and Octavia Spencer shine in their supporting roles. Guillermo del Toro uses the camera, colour, sound and set design to craft a very special experience for the audience, with many different emotions permeating the screenplay. If you are a fan of del Toro, unconventional love stories, or atmospheric scenes, then the Shape of Water is a brilliant piece of movie magic that you should see at once.

Intoxicating Love Affair

It would be criminal to talk about the Shape of Water without talking about its colours and music, elements that set the overall tone of the film. Throughout the film, there is a very constant and obvious use of cool colours, specifically the colour teal. The colour of water, clothes, cars and even the amphibious man. It’s no surprise that the film is set during the Cold War, as the colour also likely represents separation, isolation and incompleteness. This is echoed in the beautiful set design of the research facility, which has an underground, claustrophobic feel to every dark corridor. In contrast, warmth is ever-present through smart use of the colour red, as well as the jazzy, melancholic tunes of the era, giving the audience a sense of comfort and class despite the brutal, discriminatory nature of society in the film. It is this juxtaposition that gives the film its brilliance. Guillermo del Toro himself has said that the film is a social and political commentary. A commentary about forces trying to separate us, while love brings us together, taking the shape of the person it’s contained within. It isn’t hard to see how the film might bring someone to tears.

Sally Hawkins does in fact steal the show with her performance, one that is emotional and compassionate, without being overly melodramatic. Her disability very much makes her the outsider in a film about outsiders, but her courage and guile sets her apart from the rest of the characters. That is not to say that Octavia Spencer wasn’t at her usual best, as she plays the witty cleaner companion of Eliza amazingly, providing much of the comedy and light-heartedness of the film. Michael Shannon’s Strickland character is the film’s metaphor for privilege and abuse of power in the world, as the film clearly shows his upper-class life and his brutal, cruel, and uncaring approach to those he regards as beneath him. Unsurprisingly, Shannon knocks it out of the park with another strong supporting performance.

Other Fishmen in the Sea

For all its beauty and meaningful social commentary, the Shape of Water never really reaches the emotional depths of Pan’s Labyrinth. Though it is not really a major flaw, my emotional investment in Eliza’s relationship was somewhat diluted by the other storylines present in the film. One subplot focusses on Eliza’s neighbour (played by Richard Jenkins) a painter who vies for the attention of a local bartender. Another storyline follows a scientist at the research facility (Michael Stuhlbarg), a compassionate soul with his own dark secrets. These characters serve to hammer home the film’s theme of being an outsider, and the alienation that follows it. And while they do feel as if they belong in the same film, Eliza’s romance (and thus the premise of the film) would have had a greater impact if more screen time had been invested into exploring her character in greater depth. There is also one short, unexpected sequence towards the end of the film which feels a little too out of place for my liking, but I’m sure some viewers will appreciate it.

Concluding Remarks

The Shape of Water is a beautiful film, which, in retrospect, doesn’t actually have any major flaws at all. While its overall plot isn’t its strongest card, it is very much a film that is appropriate for its time. Division, segregation, discrimination and tense international relations are common themes in the news at the time of this article’s writing. And Guillermo del Toro has done an incredible job, using these themes to create a mood that pervades almost every aspect of this film, from its dialogue to its sets. Whether the film will be remembered for its creative and technical achievements, or be recognised by further awards nominations, is something that is presently unknown. But del Toro and co. have definitely given us another gem of a film, with a vision and direction that one can only describe as ‘masterful’.

Overall Score: 8.5/10

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The Shape of Water Trailer

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    • Coffeequeeen profile image

      Louise Powles 2 weeks ago from Norfolk, England

      I like the sound of this film. One to put on my list. Thanks. =)

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