The Shape of Water follows a mute cleaning woman who meets a strange aquatic humanoid creature within the lab at which she works. As she develops a relationship with the creature, she commits to saving it from the clutches of a disturbed man bent on its destruction.
The Shape of Water Review
If it isn't evident from the trailers, The Shape of Water is more closely related to Crimson Peak or Pan's Labyrinth than del Toro's other works. It plays out like a dark fantasy with a heavy focus on drama and romantic elements with a tinge of horror mixed in. It's basically a story of "what if Abe Sapien did a Creature from the Black Lagoon story"? Take that to the theater and you have this movie.
Doug Jones is the unsung hero of so many of del Toro's films, playing his roles under intricate and beautiful suits. He played the Angel of Death in Hellboy 2 in addition to his Abe Sapien role. He played Fauno and the Pale Man in Pan's Labyrinth. And now we see him in the role of the creature, which, frankly, isn't all that dissimilar from Abe. Sally Hawkins is an incredible lead as the timid yet brash mute. Opposite her is Michael Shannon, who gives his effective "quiet menace" performance we've all become quite familiar with. The characters are one key to this tale, and the actors play their parts perfectly.
Sometimes del Toro reminds me of Neill Blomkamp. I know, a weird comparison. But I say that because they both have unique and top-notch perspectives on visuals and effects, telling original and interesting stories, but sometimes their writing doesn't translate perfectly onscreen with their actors and the performances come across as awkward at times. There is far less of that in this film, but I do bring it up because I experienced that in very small doses with Shannon's character in brief moments.
The creature design is fantastic, though it does mimic Abe Sapien quite a bit. There is enough of a difference for those engrossed in del Toro's costume designs that you can appreciate the intricate work used. No CGI ever beats the natural movement and look of practical effects. I don't know if that will ever change for me. This film needed that tangible source for Hawkins to work with and it makes this film real.
The horror is limited. The creature isn't a malevolent force and is rarely portrayed as such. Shannon, however, is. He plays the role of Vidal from Pan's Labyrinth. He is the vicious monster we are supposed to fear. And it's his decaying body, much like the body horror moments we experience in Pan's Labyrinth, that physically manifest his evil. It's something del Toro is exceptional at.
I loved the movie, but not as a horror film. I love movies that ingrain horror elements to drive the story. This film does that, much to what we are used to in del Toro works. But it isn't a horror movie. It's a romantic drama, with thriller and horror elements sprinkled in. It's dark fantasy at its face, and that is what I expected. If you go in it with that mindset, I think you can enjoy it as much as I did.
Many people called this film del Toro's masterpiece...I don't know if I'd go that far. it's a great film, one of his best, but I don't know if I'd put it above Pan's Labyrinth. The magic of that film may never be captured again.