The Shape of Water movie review: Guillermo Del Toro's film is a visual spectacle and an emotional triumph

Mihir Fadnavis

February 16, 2018 12:48:35 IST

4/5

The Shape of Water almost feels like Guillermo Del Toro’s reactionary movie to Pacific Rim and Crimson Peak. While both those movies were fun they never reached the levels of his previous work like Pan’s Labyrinth, so the tone, style and quality of this film is an all too obvious ploy by the filmmaker to reclaim some of his lost glory.

His ploy is successful because this is a great film about the monsters both around and within us, and the fact that a person can fall in love with someone you perceive to be a monster just because he doesn’t look and sound the way you do.

The Shape of Water.

We’re introduced to Elisa (Sally Hawkins in another winning performance) who is a janitor at a government facility that is involved in mysterious scientific experiments. It’s the 60s, when America and Russia are at the height of the cold war and there are spies operating in clandestine fashions. A strange containment unit arrives in the facility one night and Elisa stumbles across its contents – a humanoid that looks like a cross between a man and a fish. And as you’d expect in a Del Toro movie, Elisa who is awkward around humans, develops a bond with the creature.

The Shape of Water isn’t just one film but many different ideas mashed together – this is a horror movie, but also a love story, a fairy tale, a cold war thriller, a heist film, a comedy, social commentary, and a denouement of how white supremacists in America treat non whites with impunity.

It’s quite an achievement that Del Toro and his co writer Vanessa Taylor manage to balance so many themes so effortlessly on the writing level, and the stunning cinematography and production design despite the low budget do the rest of the heavy lifting. The creature itself has an amazing presence thanks to its resemblance to the Creature from the Black Lagoon and the wonderful performance from Del Toro regular Doug Jones under the suit. Del Toro’s love for monsters has been well documented and here the design of the fish man becomes another iconic creation like the Fawn from Labyrinth.

The fairy tale elements flit in and out of the film seamlessly as the focus shifts from the creature to the villainous Colonel Richard (Michael Shannon) whose disdain for the fish man is absolute. As good as Shannon is in the role, it has to be acknowledged that his character is a rehash of the nefarious Captain from Labyrinth.

Both of them are proud military jerks, they both intimidate a woman protected by an otherworldly creature, and they both experience spine chilling body horror. There are a few other themes which are also repeated from Del Toro’s earlier works like The Devil’s Backbone and Cronos, and while it’s fine for a filmmaker to revisit the zone he’s most comfortable in, the film does at times feel like Del Toro’s safe bet rather than a truly bold vision into uncharted territory.

But even in the familiar moments there is much to love and adore about this fairy tale for adults. Nowadays we seldom see films that are crafted with so much love and care, where even the violence becomes a work of art. Del Toro’s philosophy is prescient, in that we’ve become so disillusioned with this world we tend to turn towards monsters to take us to a different world, and without a proper voice we wish every night to find someone who can give us one.

So watch the film, be awed by the painterly visual palette it offers, be swept away by the emotions it renders. There are unfortunately a few cuts imposed by our beloved CBFC but don’t let that deter you from experiencing a magical time at the cinema.

Updated Date: Feb 16, 2018 12:48 PM