THE SHAPE OF WATER Review: An Eye Popping, Enchanting Tale

SUMMARY

It's not very often that critics feel lucky to screen a film but such is the case is with this release. 'The Shape Of Water is one of the best releases this year.
Acting
Writing
Direction
Cinematography
Music
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A powerful performance from Sally Hawkins and an incredible, engaging narrative help make The Shape Of Water a phenomenal film.

Summary

Our story centers around Eliza Esposito (Sally Hawkins), who lives in an apartment above a stylish movie theater. Even though Esposito is mute, her eyes and expressions show off her playful side. Most of her life is rote, but Hawkins character always seems to find solace in the simple things. At night she’s working on a janitorial crew at a  government secret lab with friend Zelda (Octavia Spencer).

One night she’s taken aback by a delivery which ends up being an amphibian-like creature, one would have to suspect Guillermo Del Toro’s take on the Creature from The Black Lagoon, played by Doug Jones. They immediately start a bond over music, and her endless demonstrations of kindness win him over. Eventually, they fall for each other but danger lurks as a government agent – played by Michael Shannon at his sneering best – desires to dissect the very person that means the world to Eliza.

The Shape Of Water

What Worked

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Taking the storyline from The Creature From The Black Lagoon and tweaking it was a wonderful surprise. Often we see the cryptid as the pursuer but in this case, it’s Hawkins character.

Hawkins performance is marvelous. She exudes such compassion and kindness on screen. In Del Toro’s fairy tale, Esposito is the princess looking for her prince charming. While it’s easy to assume that the film is about our cryptid’s, but in reality, it’s about Eliza’s awakening. Her transformation from a woman whose life is dominated by routine and silence to a world full of love and possibility is the thread woven throughout this touching tale.

Del Toro and co-writer Vanessa Taylor have crafted a delicious tale that’s haunting yet exhilarating at the same time. This quite possibly could be the best-written piece of Del Toro’s career.

The film walks a fine line in the tone it seeks to set. At times we are treated to gruesome images of metaphorically rotting fingers on the hand of Shannon’s character, then we pivot to dazzling shots of Esposito embracing in the water with her newfound love.

The Shape Of Water delves deep into themes such as good vs evil and the impact of science. While good vs evil isn’t a foreign theme in any number of fairy tales, what was compelling is its commentary on science. Del Toro appears to be asking when does decency supersede science. Shannon’s character is brutally mauling the cryptid all in the interest of discovery. Is the possibility of finding something out scientifically enough to justify any action?

Dan Laustsen’s cinematography captures all the magic of the film’s gorgeous production design. Lausten’s use of a vibrant color palette accentuates the character’s surroundings as well.

Alexandre Desplat’s score is a revelation. His use of three different parts – the use of piano and what sounds like a harmonica gives it a spooky tone which eventually morphs into something special.

Overall

The Shape Of Water is easily one of the ten best films of 2017. Del Toro’s bold direction has a resulted in a tale that can resonate with anyone, in any situation. Hawkins will certainly be nominated for her performance as will Del Toro and Taylor for their writing. Anyone who is going to the theater this weekend should make this a priority.

Dewey Singleton - Film Critic
I'm a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association and have been doing reviews for many years. My views on film are often heard in markets such as Atlanta, Houston, and satellite radio. My wife often tolerates my obsession for all things film related and two sons are at an age now where 'Trolls' is way cooler than dad. Follow me on twitter @mrsingleton.

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