The films I look forward to the most are the ones where I can identify style instantaneously and, in the exclusive club of auteurs, there is no style that speaks quite as loud as that of Guillermo Del Toro’s. His take on the more gothic side of film has, much like the style of Tim Burton, set the standards for tales of the bizarre and wondrous. His stories have managed to completely flip the perception of monsters to one where we can witness the emotions inside them and not perceive them as single-minded beasts. His newest work The Shape of Water carries on this trademark resulting in a film that explodes with passionate romance.
The look of a Del Toro film is obviously a selling point which I will get into later, but I first want to talk about something that may have surpassed the effective of visual appeal. The performances in this film are masterful. Sally Hawkins plays the mute cleaner Elisa and the fact that she can portray such emotion all using sign language and facial expressions is amazing. The film does have subtitles to reveal the more important pieces of dialogue, but I feel that removing the subtitles all together wouldn’t make an ounce of different in the pleasure from seeing The Shape of Water because we can already interpret what she would be saying through the emotional weight of her performance. Another stand out is Richard Strickland played by Michael Shannon who I believe is one of the most intimidating actors working today. The amount of intimidation that Michael Shannon can pull off just from his eyes and tone of voice is a fantastic study for aspiring actors. Apparently, the roles in The Shape of Water were written with the starring actors in mind and just by how comfortably they seem to fit with their characters proves this.
Whilst gothic, Del Toro’s films also visually appeal the same way fairy tales do. The Shape of Water shares the same ability in fairy tales to humanise creatures. The amphibious man in The Shape of Water, who’s look eerily echoes The Creature from the Black Lagoon, is humanised so well. We understand early on that Elisa is mute and the film make is clear, so the audience understands that fact about her character, this amphibious creature however, doesn’t see her that way. This creature doesn’t acknowledge the fact that she is mute, yes, they communicate through sign language, but he doesn’t see her inability to talk as an inability. This makes for a romance built of great character foundations and relationships, for I while I forgot that this creature was even a creature at all, which may ease some audience that may be put off by this strange relationship.
I must talk about the lighting and use of colour in this film. expanded on how The Shape of Water is well made, you can tell a lot of work went into lighting scenes giving the film a fantastical element whilst sustaining the naturalistic nature of the story being told. The film’s colour is certainly going to stay in the mind of anyone who sees this film, the combination of many different shades of blues and greens along with the watery texture surprisingly blends well with the 1960’s setting.
The film is very experimental in its editing, especially in those odd few moments when the film uses dissolve and wipe cuts. I can’t say that the editing was all over the place because the film uses the cuts creatively and you’re not bombarded with different angles of a scene but if you’re a fan of those type of experimental or art house type films, the chances are the editing is something you’ll appreciate.
For all the cinematic charm The Shape of Water can create, I regret to admit at times there were certain sub-plots that slowed the film down. For instance, there are side stories that explore the period of US and Soviet Russia tensions. I agree that at some point the film must address its historical period, but for a while it seemed like the script wanted to push this tension so that it has a greater importance to the story. Linking the amphibious creature to research for the space race does cross the line of believable when the reigns of it all should be carried by the characters. I wish that the film could have found a more creative way of presenting this historical period so that the audience has that information stored but it doesn’t befuddle the important romance going on.
I have learned a very important lesson from watching The Shape of Water, the importance of balance in film. I am inspired by the way Guillermo Del Toro has taken the surreal romance between a human and a creature and told it in such a way that we can together as an audience believe what we are seeing. Dare I say, I think The Shape of Water could even surpass Pan’s Labyrinth for its emotional weight on magical realism. The Shape of Water is fantastically made, the style of Guillermo Del Toro’s settings burst with richness and the performance are more than worth the merits and awards they will possibly receive. Del Toro continues this remarkable run of success and The Shape of Water could possibly be his crowning jewel.
Final Result: 9/10 – Excellent
Have you seen The Shape of Water? What did you think? Please let me know your thoughts and opinions in the comments below.
Next Time: I, Tonya