The Shape Of Water is a supernatural thriller which ells the story of a mute woman, Eliza Esposito (Sally Hawkins), who strikes up a friendship with a mysterious underwater creature.
But stick with us, as Guillermo del Toro’s 1960s fairytale The Shape of Water is arguably his best – and strangest – film to date.
The creature, played by the brilliant Doug Jones, is being held at a government laboratory where Eliza works, and the two of them form a bond after Eliza, who is a cleaner, begins to communicate with the creature and brings him food (usually boiled eggs).
The film is really about love and loneliness, and how most of us are probably unfulfilled until we find that special someone; all the main characters are shunned by the community in different ways – Eliza can’t speak, her neighbour Giles (Richard Jenkins) is old and has been unable to live as a gay man, her colleague Zelda is African American and her new best friend is a creature from the sea, who may have been a deity and was apparently worshipped by people in the Amazon but one that is childlike and often wild.
Jenkins shines as Giles, bringing humour and warmth to the movie, while Hawkins may finally get the Academy recognition she deserves by somehow managing to be the loudest presence on screen with her charming performance as Eliza even though she cannot speak for reasons that are slowly unveiled throughout the film.
Del Toro and co-screenwriter Vanessa Taylor use the character of Colonel Strickland (Michael Shannon) to show us whose opinion counted the most during that period – the straight, white male; at one point Strickland, who is the villain of the piece, even tells Zelda that God probably looked like him rather than her during a conversation in his office.
Ultimately though del Toro wants us to know we don’t need words to express how we feel and love can conquer everything.
The story is helped by the world that is created by del Toro through the visuals, costumes and location. The film is set in 1960 Baltimore but del Toro’s vision of the city is one set in the art deco-style, with vibrant greens and reds help to bring the story alive; the film uses practical effects rather than CGI with the creature played by frequent del Toro collaborator Doug Jones.
The Shape of Water deservedly won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival and it is arguably del Toro’s best film to date (yes it may be better than Pan’s Labyrinth). It’s a funny, charming and heart-warming tale and most people will find it difficult not to be taken in by it.
The Shape Of Water is out in the UK on 14 February.