The Shape of Water Movie Review: A Poetic Love Letter to Cinema

One word can be used to describe The Shape of Water: poetic. The Shape of Water is a poetic demonstration of the magic of storytelling and after the ambitious yet divisive Crimson Peak, it is a return to form for director Guillermo del Toro who has proven himself to be a master at crafting poetic genre fare like The Devil’s Backbone and one of the best movies ever made, Pan’s Labyrinth. While those two films are classifiable horror films, The Shape of Water offers a little something for everyone: It’s romantic, adventurous, funny, musical, and horrific, and its eclectic experience makes it one of the best films of the year.

Set in 1962 Baltimore against the backdrop of the Cold War, The Shape of Water follows the story of a mute janitor named Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins) who works the night shift at a government laboratory along with her friend Zelda (Octavia Spencer) and is friends with her closeted gay neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins). One night, Elisa’s life starts to change once she falls for a man-fish hybrid creature referred to as “The Asset” (Doug Jones) brought into the facility from South America by the sadistic Colonel Strickland (Michael Shannon) who wants to harvest its body for technological purposes.

As eclectic as the film itself is Sally Hawkins’ commanding performance as Elisa. She is warm, sensual, tragic, and comical even if doesn’t utter a single word. However, the supporting players are equally as impressive; Richard Jenkins quietly steals each scene he’s in as Giles with compassion and sly humor, the always reliable Octavia Spencer provides spunky comedic relief as the talkative Zelda, Michael Shannon is charismatically menacing as the ruthless Colonel Strickland, and Michael Stuhlbarg brings intrigue to his portrayal of Dr. Robert Hoffstetler, a scientist who plans to experiment on “The Asset” but shows sympathy for the romance between it and Elisa.

The love story serves as the film’s heart. But what’s really surprising is how the film is also a love letter to outcasts. Seeing a disabled woman, a gay male, a black woman, and a creature come together because they feel rejected by society and to combat a bigoted white male adds both a heartwarming and political layer to the brilliant screenplay by Guillermo del Toro and Vanessa Taylor.

Of course, like any other film by Guillermo del Toro, the craftsmanship emerges a high point. Whether it’s because of the colorful yet rain-laced cinematography by Dan Laustsen or the creature design on “The Asset” or the lavish art direction by Nigel Churcher or even the luminous score by Alexandre Desplat, it’s impossible to take your eyes and ears off this fantastical world that del Toro has crafted.

From the very first frame to the last, The Shape of Water is a captivating and emotional experience. It’s poetic in its demonstration of transcendent love, a heartwarming ode to outcasts, and a love letter to cinema with its eclectic fusing of genres. It is films like The Shape of Water that are why we go to the movies.

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Matthew St.Clair

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