‘The Shape of Water’ Review: Guillermo del Toro’s Monster Romance

The Shape of Water is Guillermo del Toro’s latest film and his best since Pan’s Labyrinth. A beautifully made film that shows del Toro’s love for the monster genre displaying heavy influence from the classic horror the Creature from the Black Lagoon. Del Toro has always been known for creating fresh and unique stories and he has done it once again with the unorthodox romance that is The Shape of Water.

Michael Shannon and Michael Stuhlbarg in The Shape of Water

Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins) is a mute woman who works as a janitor for a government facility in 1960’s Baltimore. Mainly keeping to herself  Elisa has happiness in her life with her small circle of friends, her neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins) and co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer). Elisa’s life takes a turn when a mysterious creature is brought into the lab. The creature, labeled “The Asset” (Doug Jones) is brought into the lab after being captured by Colonel Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon) in the rivers of South America. Dr. Robert Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg) is in charge of studying the creature and he quickly grows a strong fascination for it.

Elisa begins to communicate with the creature teaching him sign language and feeding him hard boiled eggs. But when Colonel Strickland’s superior General Hoyt (Nick Searcy) wants “The Asset” killed for research purposes is when Elisa decides to free him. With the help of Giles and Zelda, Elisa is able to help free the creature, while she is in hiding with him she begins to fall in love with him.

Sally Hawkins and Doug Jones in The Shape of Water

The Shape of Water was an original story created by del Toro along with the help of Vanessa Taylor who co-wrote the script. An unorthodox romance is what del Toro has given us, with a heavy influence of classic horror monsters in the creature, to a Cold War era feel in 1960’s Baltimore. By having Dr. Hoffstetler be a Soviet spy adds to this storyline and feel of the race that was between the United States and Soviet Russia at the time.

Aesthetically the film is beautiful, proving that visually stunning films can be made on a small scale budget. Where Del Toro does well is by bringing in such a great amounts of detail into this story, but where he absolutely shines is by being able to tell a love story without the use of words. Being that the film’s main character is mute and the creature cannot verbally communicate. The chemistry between Sally Hawkins and Doug Jones was magnificent, the pair were able to act out amazing performance. Even though Hawkins took of the role of a mute woman she was able to display an overabundance of emotion and passion making her performance one of the better lead female performances of the year.

Sally Hawkins and Octavia Spencer in The Shape of Water

Essentially The Shape of Water is about acceptance and how everyone and everything should be treated equally with respect. We see this throughout the film, from our main character in Elisa who is treated as a child at times due to her inability to speak. Her neighbor Giles and friend Zelda are also victims of racism and discrimination. Giles is kicked out of a restaurant for being a gay man and Zelda is constantly being undermined by Colonel Strickland because of her skin color. As for the creature, played by Doug Jones, his character is mercilessly tortured by Colonel Strickland not only as a science project but because the Colonel considers him a false god to the natives. Strickland at one point in the film says that God doesn’t look like the creature he looks like “you and me”, insinuating that God looks like a white man. 

Besides its love story, the underlying message in The Shape of Water is about equality for all. This is why Elisa is able to fall in love with a creature because the creature is able to love her for who she is and does not see her as a mute or someone with a disability. Showing that as a society we should be able to see past physical flaws in people.

The Shape of Water will be in Oscar contention for Best Picture and rightfully so. This is a film that should be getting more commercial praise. In a film era of everything Marvel and giant blockbusters, it is refreshing to watch a beautifully stunning film with an original story. Del Toro has created a spectacular film in The Shape of Water.


Final Grade: A+



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