Advance Screening: The Shape of Water

The Shape of Water Review

Runtime: 123mins | Director: Guillermo del Toro | Rating: 4.5 Stars

What do you get when you cross a soft-core porn with 1954’s Creature from the Black Lagoon?

The answer: Guillermo del Toro’s, The Shape of Water.

Whilst this may sound as if I’m trying to make an opening joke, it’s actually an accurate description of the film (albeit a very simplified version).

Does this make The Shape of Water a bad film though? Absolutely not. In fact, it is one of del Toro’s finest.

Set in the 1960’s amidst the height of Cold War paranoia, the story begins by introducing us to Eliza (Sally Hawkins), a mute woman who works at a scientific research facility. One day when she is cleaning one of the labs with her friend, Zelda (Octavia Spencer), a mysterious container is wheeled in holding a mysterious amphibious, humanoid creature (Doug Jones). During her shifts at the facility, Eliza starts to form a bond with the creature, and eventually, a romance. When she then learns that the creature is to be killed for research purposes to try and give America an advantage over Russia, she vows to help it escape. This mission turns out to be easier said than done when a ruthless Government agent, Strickland (Michael Shannon), starts to hunt them down to recover the creature.

Now, while this plot may seem a whirlwind of fictitious chaos, it actually works very well, and this is largely in part due to the directive genius of Guillermo del Toro. Being no stranger to the quirkier side of cinema, his unique style of dark fantasy is able to fully take flight (or should I say swim?) in The Shape of Water.

At its heart, The Shape of Water is a love story, and the way del Toro creates this romance is nothing short of genius. On the surface, it seems improbable, if not impossible that such a romance would (or even could!) occur, yet despite this, by the end of the film, you not only are okay with it for the most part but actually root for them.

Due to the fact Eliza is mute, she has never felt the same as others - in many ways, she is an outcast. This notion is bolstered by the fact her closest friends are a closeted middle-aged man (Richard Jenkins) and a black woman – neither of whom were embraced during the 1960’s by white society. Therefore, when Eliza meets the creature who cannot speak either, for the first time in her life she feels on equal footing. This sense of equality between them only strengthens as the film continues until it seems only natural they should be together.

Despite the above romance though, The Shape of Water also takes inspiration from various other genres – most notably, old-school horror and film noir. These stylistic tropes predominantly play out in the scenes revolving around Strickland who makes it his sole mission to kill the creature and interrogate anyone who may have any snippet of knowledge relating to it – after all, despite the impression of the creature we’re given as an audience, it is still a sharp-clawed, cat-eating amphibious ‘monster’, and del Toro doesn’t spare on the blood and gore to remind us of this. In fact, there were several moments where I had to half cover my eyes! On reflection, I should’ve waited until after the screening to have had my dinner…

Aside from the brilliant directing, Sally Hawkins also gives her best performance to date as Eliza. I have been a long-time fan of Hawkins since I first saw her in Submarine, one of my favourite films. Whilst she often gives enjoyable performances, none of them have been what I would describe as 'demanding’. Playing a mute woman who falls in love with a fish-like creature, however, is. For a character that says nothing at all, Hawkins manages to convey a vast amount of emotion, and this is something I don’t think should be understated. Whilst I don’t think her performance was better than Frances McDormand in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, she definitely earned her nomination for best actress at the 2018 Oscars.

After seeing The Shape of Water, if there is one thing I am certain of, it is that this film will be incredibly divisive - many will love it, and many will hate it. That being said, I personally found it to be a beautiful, if not very strange film. Not only does Hawkins provide her career best, but so does del Toro. A compelling story accompanied by stunning visuals courtesy of Dan Laustsen make The Shape of Water a very worthy Oscar contender and one that is sure to stick in peoples’ minds for years to come. After all, it’s not easy to forget a woman getting it on with a glorified fish.

To watch the trailer – click here


  1. La la land goes sci-fi in the Trumpian era. Shame Sally can't mime well enough to do justice to the soundtrack of her big romantic moment..... but agreed, a worthy nomination....

    1. I thought, overall, she did a really good job. Just not quite good enough to top McDormand in Three Billboards... Thanks for reading and commenting - I appreciate it!


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