Seducing an Amphibian

The Shape of Water

Director: Guillermo del Toro

Cast: Sally Hawkins, Doug Jones, Michael Shannon, Octavia Spencer, Richard Jenkins, Michael Stulbarg, David Hewlett, Martin Roach

Mexican director Guillermo del Toro reinvents cinematic magic realism in this darkly sublime fantasy adventure The Shape of Water featuring a stand out performance by British actress Sally Hawkins and character actor Michael Shannon.

Set in a covert government laboratory in Baltimore in the early 1960’s at the height of the cold war, The Shape of Water deftly weaves an extraordinary and compelling story of a young mute woman Elisa Esposito played by Hawkins (Happy Go Lucky, Blue Jasmine) who along with her co-worker Zelda Fuller played by Oscar winner Octavia Spencer (The Help) play observant cleaners in this secret facility ruled by the vain and cruel manager, Richard Strickland, wonderfully played with an ambivalent menace by Oscar nominee Michael Shannon (Nocturnal Animals, Revolutionary Road).

Elisa lives with a repressed homosexual Giles who is struggling to reignite his graphic design business. Giles is played with an exuberant flair by Oscar nominee Richard Jenkins (The Visitor).

What is so magnificent about The Shape of Water is the brilliant script co-written by del Toro and Vanessa Taylor and the intriguing plot is underscored by a tantalizing musical score by Oscar winner Alexandre Desplat who also provided the fantastic original score for director Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel.

Highlighting the duplicitous Cold War, is the fastidious scientist Dr Robert Hoffstetler beautifully played by character actor Michael Stuhlbarg (A Serious Man, Trumbo, Miles Ahead).

Eliza, the sexually charged mute cleaning lady develops a sensual bond of the most unusual nature with the Amphibian man played by Doug Jones, who is both exotic, dangerous and restorative. This Amphibian was discovered in the South American jungle and worshipped as a God by the indigenous tribes only to be snatched by sinister American agents to be used as a guinea pig in a space race against the murky and nefarious Soviets.

The Shape of Water is an intelligently woven allegorical tale about the exotic entering a decade of American consumerism which was as paranoid as it was dictatorial: the 1960’s. Set against the Cold War, this augmented paranoia is heightened through various well placed TV images of the rising tensions of the civil rights movements permeating in the background, along with many other counter-cultural movement which eventually undid the 1960’s completely and changed America forever.

Visually, The Shape of Water is rich with symbolic imagery and director Guillermo del Toro relishes in mixing the brutal with the gorgeous.

The love of cinema shines through in The Shape of Water, which I consider to be del Toro’s best work with the exception of his Oscar winning foreign language film, Pan’s Labyrinth.

The performances by a mostly ensemble cast are exemplary in a film that will dazzle the senses aided by exceptionally high production values and a quirky story which is both lyrical and tragic.

Highly recommended viewing, The Shape of Water gets a film rating of 9 out of 10.

 

 

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