Working as a janitor in a secret government laboratory, the mute Elisa (Sally Hawkins) finds herself falling for the lab’s latest asset (Doug Jones), who was recently brought in by a crazed colonel (Michael Shannon).
As a piece of disclosure, this was a hastily-written piece that I just wanted to get written and posted before the holidays. This movie deserves much better than the following review (in general, I adore this movie, so so much).
After he followed up the well-received dark fantasy of Pan’s Labyrinth with a Hellboy sequel, a CGI-fest of Pacific Rim and the romance-advertised-as-a-horror film Crimson Peak, director Guillermo del Toro returns to the fantastical with the romantic Shape of Water. And after the mixed results of those three films, del Toro returns to well-deserved, near-universal praise. This is a beautiful film, from the romantic story at its heart, to its theme of acceptance, and the production design and shot composition.
I find myself not having much of anything negative to say about this movie. I saw this movie a week ago, so it’s possible that I am just missing something, but I genuinely remember enjoying everything about this movie. It’s filled with excellent performances. Sally Hawkins near-silent performance as Elisa has more life and heart to it than almost any spoken performance I have seen this year. Through glances and smirks, she conveys an understanding for the asset’s plight. Both are unable to express themselves verbally and are typically only seen by what makes them different. By visiting him every day at lunch and teaching him the sign language that she needs to express herself, the two are able to form a beautiful connection, to the point that when his necessity to the lab nears its expiration, she is willing to risk everything to save him. Despite never truly sharing a word together, their relationship feels real, and much of that relies on Hawkins’ performance.
That is not to short the man underneath the complicated prothestics of the asset, Doug Jones. Jones has been working under prosthetics for nearly thirty-years (including Billy Butcherson Hocus Pocus and the lead Gentleman from Buffy, 90’s readers), and has been working with del Toro pretty consistently since 1997’s Mimic. I genuinely believe that Jones is one of the most underappreciated performers in media today, and this performance is yet another example of that. He gives life and humanity to the amphibious asset. And it says a lot about him, del Toro and the makeup crew on this film that they favored the practical work instead of quickly throwing a CGI abomination on screen for Hawkins to interact with. Their dedication is what brings the asset to life and what gives Hawkins a “real” body to work against, giving more life to her performance.
The one other performance that I want to touch upon is Michael Shannon, who gives the exact performance that you would expect from a villainous Michael Shannon character. It’s not a subtle performance, but it is not intended to be. He ranges from hilariously over-the-top to genuinely terrifying, which is exactly what I wanted from him in this movie. He’s one of the few actors around right now where I feel genuine excitement to see whatever performance he may give, whether it be a small comedic role like in The Night Before or a villainous role like in this.
The production design, lighting and cinematography on this movie is excellent as well. The asset’s amphibious state requires that he be in water very frequently, and the film’s composition gives you the sense of water throughout. From the fish-tank design of the colonel’s office, to frequently showing falling onto windows, or even Elisa’s apartment, lit partially by the underneath movie theater, giving her entire apartment a slightly blue hue. The sense of being underwater/near water is pervasive throughout this film, which makes us feel at home in those colors, just as the asset feels at home in actual water.
I don’t know. Something about a land creature and a sea creature loving each other. They’re happy. I was happy with this movie. *shrugs wildly*
References The Shape of Water Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Shape_of_Water_(film)https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Shape_of_Water_(film) Guillermo del Toro Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guillermo_del_Toro Doug Jones Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doug_Jones_(actor)#Television Photos Cover Photo http://cdn.collider.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/the-shape-of-water-slice-600x200.png Elisa and The Asset http://cdn.collider.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/the-shape-of-water-sally-hawkins.jpg Spongebob and Sandy https://vignette3.wikia.nocookie.net/spongebob/images/1/16/Truth_or_Square_83.jpg/revision/latest?cb=20140119171442