Water molecules are bent with an angle of roughly 105 degrees, connecting two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom. That is the Shape of Water.
Oh, right, this is a review of the movie, which is Guillermo Del Toro’s best work since Pan’s Labyrinth. Am I saying that too soon? Well, I shall dive deeper into the depths of this film in due time.
I want to make a quick note of the music being made up mostly of lovely piano tunes that evoke excitement and intrigue, and the film is otherwise sprinkled with perfectly chosen early 1900s jazz and swing, some of which is diegetic, being played on a record player. It is better than I could have expected.
Elisa, played by Sally Hawkins, is a fascinating character. She is mute, and she acts and emotes as a person conceivably would, yet there’s something special about the way she is portrayed here. I must commend Sally Hawkins, especially with regard to her interactions with other characters during tense scenes. I do not believe that emoting effectively without sound is a simple feat; plenty of actors manage a lesser job with all of their senses in constant use. Octavia Spencer is a delight, but admittedly she is effectively playing the same character she did in The Help (2011). That isn’t a fault, per se, but it reduces the impact of her performance and even her dialogue when it seems to have essentially been plucked from another excellent film. Doug Jones plays the Creature from the Black Lagoon, I mean….’Amphibian man’ (that’s how he’s credited). Said creature works almost as a counterpart to Elisa, both in their onscreen relationship and their character traits, including their shared lack of verbal communication. I can’t say much more on that, but the costume/makeup design for him is impeccable. Michael Shannon is oddly fitting as Strickland, a morally bankrupt self-aggrandizing villain. He cares for little aside from furthering his career, and his sadism is apparently boundless. Strickland is actually not particularly noteworthy in his goals for the duration of the film; many side characters essentially share his views and perhaps his motivations, but his sheer madness coupled with a remarkable ingenuity elevate the character from that of a generic chaotic-evil Machiavellian to a wonderfully entertaining paradigm of various vices. Rounding out the cast is Richard Jenkins, who has continuously impressed me over the last few years (Go watch Bone Tomahawk, it is an incredible film and he is divine). He plays Giles, who is a close friend of Elisa’s. He is old and lonely and a bit troubled in general, but he also represents logic and reason in this bizarre film. Having a character generally stay grounded and relatable is certainly a boon in this case. There is also a compassionate scientist who is pivotal to the film, and he is fine, but not worth much more than a mention. Beyond these characters, there is unfortunately a plethora of side characters, most of whom fail to impress on any note. Several, especially Strickland’s boss, are almost impressively generic and bland. Rather, if the film focused on them instead, I believe it would be average at best in quality. Thankfully, there are only a few scenes without heavy focus on the main cast, which is comprised of mostly amazing performances.
Oh, the film is well-shot in terms of the proper conveyance of events, but it also seems surprisingly tame considering the material. I thought the cinematography was certainly competent, but there’s little innovation in that, if any.
At the surface level of The Shape of Water, it is about a woman’s struggle to find happiness and her place in the world. She does not attempt to socialize with anyone outside of her two friends. She is ostracized if not ignored by most of her coworkers. Yet, she is a complex and righteous character in a film well worth watching. There’s a brilliance to it. This movie has a story that is dissimilar to any I have ever seen, and that is a blessing by its own right. The bonus comes from the entertainment and creativity with which Del Toro approaches presenting his own absurd ideas.