The Shape of Water
Whatever your reaction, this is a unique and creative film.
Let me start by saying that if you don’t embrace hard-edge science fiction, then this film is not for you. On the other hand, if you are a fan of Vincent Price and The Fly (1958) or Claude Rains in The Invisible Man (1933), then this is a must-see movie.
Guillermo del Toro created a romantic horror story where Elsa, a mute janitor (Sally Hawkins), falls in love with an aquatic green beast (Doug Jones) kept chained in a U.S. Military facility in the early 1960s. Living an isolated life where she begins each day masturbating in her heated tub, her attraction to the creature begins after discovering the government’s intent to kill him in order to conduct medical experiments.
While Ms. Hawkins will challenge for Oscar consideration, the film also contains some great performances from a cast of well-known actors. The great Richard Jenkins is unforgettable as Elsa’s apartment neighbor who was fighting to find some meaning in a life increasingly devoid of hope. Octavia Spencer plays Elsa’s spirited janitorial co-worker, and she is a sarcastic woman who will leave you repeatedly laughing.
What makes this film rise out of the ashes are the performances of two Michaels, Shannon and Stuhbarg. This movie takes place during the height of the cold war and Stuhbarg is pitch perfect as a Russian agent who must decide which comes first: an obligation to your mother country or the life of the beast.
Nobody plays a nasty rogue better than Mr. Shannon, and he shines here as a despicably violent security supervisor who delights in torturing the beast. The electrically charged rod that he carries with pride defines him, and his desire to succeed in the eyes of a general leads him to ignore a loving wife and children.
While tension mounts as Ms. Hawkins and her reluctant allies try to help the beast escape, the beauty of this film is found in Mr. del Toro’s use of old movies and music from the 1940s-50s. It is to del Toro’s credit (he co-wrote, produced and directed this movie) that he animates the entire story with moments such as Ms. Hawkins dancing to a Benny Goodman song.
And whatever your feelings may be about this film are largely irrelevant. After all, many women will likely identify with a plot that involves the consequences of falling in love with a monster!