Academy Award-winning "The Shape of Water" is The Edition's pick to kick off our Movie Review segment, offering a look at last year's favourites, alongside the latest cinematic releases.
Even before it hit theatres, Guillermo del Toro’s “The Shape of Water” created ripples amongst cinephiles with its promise of a dark adult fairy tale set in 1960’s Baltimore during the Cold War. The rather dubious premise of the film, mainly the bond Elisa, a lonely mute janitor, develops with a mysterious amphibious creature held captive in a secret research facility, raised many an eyebrow – certainly raised mine – but also sparked the intrigue of fantasy lovers, namely yours truly.
Suffice to say, del Toro delivered. With a magnificent performance from Sally Hawkins, who portrays the emotional complexity of her mute character through body and sign language alone, the movie drew me in right from the start. It progresses at a good pace, moving the story forward fast enough to hold my interest, and taking a breath at key moments to establish the characters and their relationships with each other, including the delightful Octavia Spencer and elegant Richard Jenkins as Elisa’s only friends.
Speaking of which, due praise must be bestowed on Doug Jones, the often overlooked actor literally in the Amphibian Man’s skin. Not only did the use of makeup and mask over CGI give a touch of old school magic to this movie, but Jones brilliantly brings across both the feral and human-like attributes of his otherworldly character – key to the unlikely love story told in this bizarre tale.
The Shape of Water also boasts mesmerizing cinematography. It maintains a constant ethereal atmosphere with its recurring aquatic theme while, in the background, the soundtrack springs from its heavy, poignant main themes to the quirky tunes of old Hollywood musicals.
That is not to say the movie is without fault. I found that the main villain Strickland, who was superbly portrayed by Michael Shannon, was rather clichéd – the sadistic military man who delights in the terror and torture of others, namely his amphibious captive. I also felt that the film’s transition from the first half to the second was a bit rushed, robbing us of some the film’s fairy tale aspect.
However, The Shape of Water still was a unique escapist experience. One with a discerning eye may catch onto the cleverly placed hints foreshadowing the movie’s climax and twist, and while some might call that predictable, I enjoyed the journey right to the end. Bagging four Academy Awards this year, including Best Picture and Best Director, The Shape of Water is one of Guillermo del Toro’s finest – a gratifying success to join the ranks of his other critically acclaimed dark fantasy, “Pan’s Labyrinth”.