Guillermo Del Toro is one of the busiest people in the film industry, with at least 432 projects floating around in his weird little development sea at any given time. In all seriousness though, Del Toro is known for signing on the develop many projects at once and most have never seen the light of day. One of the more fortunate projects that made it to the silver screen, thankfully, is ‘The Shape of Water’.
Del Toro co-wrote this film with Vanessa Taylor and together, they crafted together a world filled with recognizable people who get caught up in an unimaginable situation. In the case of this film, the unimaginable situation is falling in love with a fish-man and then trying to help him escape from a government facility. Throw in a dash of Russian spy and comic-book level villain and you’ve got ‘The Shape of Water’.
Del Toro uses his distinct visual style that we have seen before in films like ‘Crimson Peak’ but to much better effect in ‘TSOW’ as he uses equal parts skill and filmic nostalgia to create a world that is only slightly off from real life. This adds to magnificent performances throughout from Sally Hawkins as Elisa Esposito, Octavia Spencer as Zelda Fuller and Richard Jenkins as Giles. These characters are a mute woman, black woman and gay artist respectively which isn’t used a gimmick in any way and only further defines them as characters. The fact that this story takes place in the early 60s sets Del Toro and Taylor to write scenes and dialogue that while sometimes uncomfortable, adds to the emersion started by the costume and production design. With equally skillful performances from Michael Shannon (Richard Strickland is the big bad Government employee) Michael Stuhlbarg (a Government scientist) and Doug Jones who is able to match Hawkins’ emotive excellence through pounds of makeup, who get one of the best ensemble casts of the year.
‘TSOW’ is a story about broken things finding love in the most peculiar places. With an unexpected level of humor and sincerity throughout, this is a film with a premise that sounds like a modern day fairytale knockoff of ‘The Creature From the Black Lagoon’ but ends up being so much more. Hawkins does so much without a single line of spoken dialogue to bring you into her emotional journey from a timid creature of habit to a courageous, confident woman who won’t be stopped. When you add to this Del Toro’s most mature direction to date with countless nods to genre and classic films and you end up with one of the best, most unique films of the year.