By Sumayyah Daisy Lane
Star rating: 4/5
Running time: 120 mins
Guillermo del Toro’s new release, The Shape of Water, occupies the space between the classic fairy tale and fantasy in this deeply immersive masterpiece.
Set against the backdrop of the Cold War, the film follows a mute cleaner working in a high security research centre in Baltimore, Elisa (Sally Hawkins), who embarks on a strange love affair with a CIA-owned half-man half-amphibian (Doug Jones). Characterised by their extremely limited communication and their shared history of torture, the pair’s relationship breaks all norms and poses a threat to both the CIA and Russian communist spies.
The movie is full of water related metaphors, all contributing to the fantastical elements of this adult take on Beauty and the Beast. Early on we notice the marks on Elisa’s neck which suggest the source of her muteness. The story of Elisa’s torture comes full circle when she meets her lover who too is without a voice, and her scars become gills in the final scene. Of course, such a happy ending would scarcely be possible without the help of her friends, and Elisa’s circle is comprised of her friends who are similarly considered outsiders: a gay neighbour, a black woman and a conflicted communist spy. Fighting against the evil forces of the CIA together, the film’s characters work to champion difference, perhaps needed when considering today’s political climate.
As ridiculous and as far from reality as it may sound, the film is anchored by the brilliant acting of the entire cast including the likes of Michael Shannon, Octavia Spencer, Richard Jenkins and Michael Stuhlbarg. Most notable though is the acting of Hawkins, who although plays a mute character, easily portrays Elisa, lending to a wholly believable plot and a magical experience for the audience. The Shape of Water easily deserves its incredible 13 Oscar nominations, and is well worth the watch.