Thursday 23 May 2019

The Shape of Water 5* review: 'It’s freaky in all the right places, and sweet in all the appropriate ones, too'


Guillermo del Toro's The Shape of Water
Guillermo del Toro's The Shape of Water

Chris Wasser

Fantasy/Drama. Starring Sally Hawkins, Richard Jenkins, Michael Shannon, Doug Jones, Octavia Spencer. Director: Guillermo del Toro. Cert: 15A

WE need to talk about Sally Hawkins. We might also address those Oscar nominations. Indeed, Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water is nominated for more Academy Awards (13) than any other film released in the last 12 months. You know what happens when films with 13 Oscar nominations are finally released in cinemas, don’t you? Yep, we go mad with our appraisals. Overboard, even.

I guess the difference with The Shape of Water is that this is a film in which a mute janitor falls for and, subsequently, engages in inter-species fornication with a mysterious, humanoid amphibian creature. Take a minute, if you need one.

On paper, The Shape of Water reads as though someone got the plot from Creature from the Black Lagoon confused with Beauty and the Beast (I’m sure it happens). But that’s pretty much how this yoke goes down. It’s freaky in all the right places, and sweet in all the appropriate ones, too. It’s probably the only story we’ve come across in which the fish finally gets the cat (you’ll see what I mean). I suppose the point I’m slowly getting to is that this is what it looks like when all the pieces come together for the great Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, Crimson Peak). This is every bit as peculiar as it sounds, a beautiful kind of cinematic weirdness.

The exquisite Sally Hawkins (whom we’ll talk about soon) is Elisa. Again, Elisa doesn’t speak (she communicates via sign language). She lives above a cinema in Baltimore, next door to a lovely illustrator chap named Giles (Richard Jenkins).

It’s the early 1960s and a top-secret, Cold War-era government facility is where all the magic is about to happen. That’s where Elisa scrubs floors and sinks with her best mate, Zelda (Octavia Spencer). One day, Elisa’s bosses bring in a creature they found in South America.

Colonel Strickland (Michael Shannon) and his rotten hand don’t like the creature. The creature doesn’t like it when the Colonel and the lab coats conduct their nasty tests. But, the creature does like it when Elisa shares her lunch with him. Yep, Elisa forms a bond with the creature and, before you know it, The Shape of Water goes all E.T. on us. That’s right, a break-out is planned and we’re well on our way to the weirdest love-making sequence since someone in Hollywood tried to convince us that Fifty Shades was just a bit of fun.

I’m skimming over the rest. You’ll have a blast watching it all unravel, in a wistful, musical sort of way. Because that’s the thing about The Shape of Water: it looks and sounds like a dream, or a glorious and gorgeous, sci-fi fairy tale that your parents forgot to read for you (with good reason). All jokes aside, del Toro and his co-writer, Vanessa Taylor, have bundled together a lovely little story about love, loss, Cold War paranoia and cat-eating amphibians.

On the one hand, The Shape of Water plays out like a forgotten instalment of The Twilight Zone. On the other, it makes for an attractive date movie. Seriously, who’d have thought that something so bizarre could be so romantic? Part of the magic is down to the players on the pitch.

Jenkins (tremendous) and Spencer (always a winner) earn their award nods. Michael Shannon can do sleazy bad dude in his sleep. An athletic Doug Jones is mesmerising as the man in the creature suit (full marks to del Toro, too, for avoiding the CG button, where possible). Alexandre Desplat’s elegant score is almost a character in itself and, oh yeah, The Shape of Water is beautiful to look at.

Its most valuable player, however, is Sally Hawkins, who walks a silent line to her own Oscar nomination. Here we have a talent who can do more with her eyes than most actors can with their entire bodies. She conveys heartbreak, happiness, desire and fear with a single expression. The woman is stunning — you’d watch her all day here.

I’d watch this film again in heartbeat. Wonderful stuff, folks.


Here's Paul Whitington's 5* review: Five star film review: The Shape of Water - 'an unexpected and irresistible delight'


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