ReelBob: ‘The Shape of Water’ ★★★½
By Bob Bloom
“The Shape of Water” is a grown-up fairy tale that is not so much akin to “Beauty and the Beast” as it is to “The Creature from the Black Lagoon.”
Guillermo del Toro directed and co-wrote this magical mixture of science fiction and romance set in 1962 — at the height of the Cold War. The film is set at a secret government laboratory in Baltimore, where a new “asset” — captured in the Amazon region — is being held for study.
Sally Hawkins plays Elisa who, along with Octavia Spencer’s Zelda, work as night-shift custodians at the facility.
Elisa is mute, but though she is voiceless, her eyes shine with intelligence and compassion.
Her condition, though, does create a sense of isolation for Elisa. Plus, people’s perception of her are influenced by her lack of a voice. Thus, she is continually underestimated — and often treated as if she were invisible — by those ranked above her.
Elisa first comes in contact with “the asset,” known as the Amphibian Man, after she is called to the lab to clean up after a bloody incident in which government agent Strickland (Michael Shannon) loses a couple of fingers.
Elisa is immediately attracted to the being in the tank. She brings him some hard-boiled eggs and slowly teaches him some rudimentary sign language.
As directed by del Toro, Elisa does not show any fear for the Amphibian Man. Instead, she displays an immediate compassion and empathy, viewing him as a kindred spirit, out of place in the conventional world.
“The Shape of Water” is fundamentally a story about “the other,” those people — or creatures — who are the square pegs that do not fit in with society’s round holes.
They are those whom “normal” people view as outcasts or different; the ones dismissed or ignored because they do not conform.
The core of “The Shape of Water” is Hawkins’ performance. It is so textured, fierce, heartwarming and embraceable that she is a sure-bet for an Academy Award nomination (and if not for this, then for her portrayal in “Maudie.”)
Hawkins brings an unbreakable spirit to her Elisa; you see the intelligence in her eyes and witness her knowledge of the advantage she holds because everyone underestimates her.
Doug Jones as Amphibian Man gives an almost ballet-like performance. You can read his mind through his eyes and movements and, though he looks fierce, underneath is compassion, understanding and love.
The one blot on the movie is Shannon’s performance. He is the villain and overplays his role to the point that you expect him to begin twirling a mustache (though he does not have one) and cackling like the Wicked Witch of the West.
“The Shape of Water” is one of the best films of the year. It is a movie that has del Toro’s fingerprints all over it. It is a dreamy, albeit, at times, violent, feature that is more classic animated Disney than Universal horror, in story and presentation.
This imaginative piece will have you floating on air and swimming in satisfaction.
I am a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association. My reviews appear at ReelBob (reelbob.com) and Rottentomatoes (www.rottentomatoes.com). I also review Blu-rays and DVDs. I can be reached by email at email@example.com or on Twitter @ReelBobBloom. Links to my reviews can be found on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn.
THE SHAPE OF WATER
3 1/2 stars out of 4
(R), violence, sexual content, nudity, language)