Starring: Sally Hawkins, Octavia Spencer, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Michael Stuhlbarg, Doug Jones
Director: Guillermo del Toro
A dark fairytale with homages to Hollywood’s Golden Age, The Shape of Water is a gothic romance from Guillermo del Toro, the mind that brought us Crimson Peak and Pan’s Labyrinth.
It’s the story of Eliza (Hawkins), a mute who lives above a cinema with her gay best friend (Jenkins) and his cats. They dream together, but are both odd balls and social outcasts. Eliza works as a cleaner at a top secret government facility, where she’s largely ignored, but is close with Zelda (Spencer), another cleaner there who understands her sign language.
One day a strange creature is brought to the lab, a sea monster (Jones) from the Amazon, captured by an evil government agent Strickland (Shannon). Though most people see a monster, Eliza sees a creature with thoughts and feelings, and she makes an effort to befriend it. A gentle romance develops between them, but the heads of the government and Russian spies infiltrating the facility want to kill it. Eliza decides that she has to help the creature escape at any cost.
There are a few repeated motifs in this film. The film is full of shades of green. The monster is green and Eliza wears green for most of the film. The walls are green. People constantly drink water. There’s also a lot of references to films from old Hollywood, and of course, Eliza lives above a cinema.
The film also manages to feel very grounded in the real, in 60’s America, and yet there are lovely flights of fantasy, scenes of a room filled with water, the creature itself, and a scene where Eliza imagines she’s in an old movie. It’s beautifully handled. Eliza is a princess from a fairytale captured in the modern world.
It’s a film with dark moments, violence and the threat of death, (Michael Shannon is incredible as a bad guy, as always) and there are lighter moments too (any scene with Octavia Spencer). There’s a thread of kindness and humour that runs through this film. It’s not perfect, the story of Elizas best friend, who is now alone and perhaps without a job, feels unfinished, as does that of her work friend Zelda. We care about these people, what happens to them? Why are their stories introduced but never closed? But on the whole, it’s a lovely and strange fantasy that reminds us to see the fairytale in everyday.
See It If: you’ve ever felt like an outsider and longed to be loved and understood. An old school Hollywood tribute and deliciously dark.