The Shape Of Water Review

The Plot

During a time when cold war paranoia and thinly veiled prejudices grip American society, an unlikely relationship develops between a mute cleaning lady and a mysterious creature being held at the secret government facility she works at.

The Good

Guillermo Del Toro is a rarely gifted storyteller with an unashamed passion for the transformative magic of fantasy storytelling. His much acclaimed previous work on Cronos, Hellboy and Pan’s Labyrinth are masterclasses in the clever use of practical effects to bring a fascinating array of creatures and strange worlds to life on screen. In The Shape Of Water Del Toro uses all of that considerable technical skill and absurdly imaginative vision to craft a powerfully sincere romantic fantasy.

Actor Doug Jones has long been Guillermo Del Toro’s secret weapon. The statuesque performer has collaborated with the acclaimed director countless times as a creature performer, proving himself to be uniquely capable of working with complex prosthetic makeup and visual effects wizardry. In this film Doug Jones gives one of his finest performances as a truly original leading man. His muted performance as the film’s muted amphibious ‘creature’ is the perfect counterpoint for Sally Hawkins equally mute leading lady.

Del Toro’s exquisite visual style gives the film its beauty, but it is the expertly nuanced performances from a fantastic ensemble cast that gives the film its heart. Sally Hawkins is simply glorious as a mute leading lady who is by turns meek and inspiringly bold.  Likewise Richard Jenkins, Octavia Spencer and a villainous Michael Shannon each bring considerable depth to supporting performances that help the film paint a complex picture of the struggle between unlikely love and ugly evil. Michael Shannon in particular deserves praise for delivering yet another performance that bristles with menacing intensity from his first moments on screen till the very last.

An achingly romantic soundtrack helps provide the film with extra dimensions of nostalgic charm and sincere yearning. The film’s more uplifting and beautiful moments largely counterbalance its occasional flashes of ugly violence and menacing subtext.

The Bad

Like much of Del Toro’s unique work The Shape Of Water lurches between moments of indescribable beauty and ugly violent horror. While this is a very deliberate element of Del Toro’s dark fantasy it will prove at times jarring and potentially deeply unsettling for more squeamish audiences. At times when the film strays into more graphic body horror it risks alienating audiences lured by a marketing campaign mostly based around the film’s more softly romantic undertones. Del Toro’s trademark lush visual style and Alexandre Desplat’s emotionally warm soundtrack can’t entirely shield audiences from the film’s more unsettling moments.

The Ugly Truth

Guillermo Del Toro offers audiences a beautiful and visceral fable that echoes much of his acclaimed past efforts and pays tribute once again to the most iconic elements of fantasy storytelling. Accomplished visual effects and a stellar ensemble cast bring a truly unique if sometimes challenging love story to life. While not always an easy watch for squeamish audiences, overall The Shape Of Water is unforgettable movie magic.

Review by Russell Nelson

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