Thirteen Oscar nominations is an incredible achievement, even more so when said nominations are for a film about a woman falling in love with a sea creature. In one of the most downright bonkers award-winning films of recent memory, Guillermo Del Toro has crafted a truly beautiful story with visuals that make even the craziest of scenes seem realisitc and a mesmerising score.
We follow the lonely Elisa (Sally Hawkins), a mute who works for a top secret government organisation during the Cold War and discovers a creature being held for testing. Unlike the scientists who prod and poke the creature for scientific purposes, Elisa forms a bond with him. By keeping this relationship very grounded, as far as letting her friend Zelda (Octavia Spencer) and neighbour Giles (Richard Jenkins) see it as a normal relationship instead of a forbidden one, it allows their love to blossom over time without being bogged down and the end result is absolutely stunning. Sally Hawkins is perfectly cast and steals every scene she is in, despite having no lines. Acting with nothing more than her facial expression and sign language, she manages to display that her acting abilities seemingly have no limit and does so much with so little.
By not following the rule book, Del Toro created his own set which could have fallen apart easily, but instead all falls into place spectacularly.
The ability of all the actors was never going to be questioned, but the strength of the screenplay Del Toro has crafted is second to none. Mixing elements of fantasy and romance is a hard task, not to mention adding the 1960’s backdrop with scenes of a suburban American life too. Accompanying all this is an excellent score that wouldn’t feel out of place within a period romance. By not following the rule book, Del Toro created his own set which could have fallen apart easily, but instead all falls into place spectacularly.
As you’d expect from the director of ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’, the creature looks incredible. It’s movements feel organic and before long you start to see the amphibian man as just a man. You witness a creature but feel every emotion he is going through. Doug Jones does some career-best work in the suit and thanks to this, the scenes between himself and Elisa never come off as ridiculous, quite the opposite in fact. It really is astounding that a mute woman and a sea creature become one of the most well crafted relationships seen on the big screen for a long time.
A genuine contender for film of the year, and it’s only February.
The core relationship may be the main focus, but there is so much more depth within. The villainous Richard Strickland is elevated above brilliant thanks to the nuances Michael Shannon brings to him. He adds a creepiness and genuine fear to a man who’s only weapon is an electric baton and a point to prove. The glimpses we get of each supporting characters’ lives add depth and helps remind you that everyone who wasn’t a rich, white, straight male was looked down upon. As the majority of characters don’t fall into this demographic, most interactions between them are friendly until someone like Strickland enters and we get a not so subtle nudge to remind us of the closed minded mature of many people decades ago. It doesn’t shove it down your throat either, just lets actions like an nervous stare speak louder than words.
It may not be an easy sell to the general audience despite all of it’s buzz, but ‘The Shape of Water’ is utterly captivating and mesmerising. It’s a film where every single aspect stands out so much you can’t pick a favourite part. It’s clear it has been made by a crew of tireless hard workers whose passion for film is evident throughout. They’ve taken an incredibly niche subject and crafted something genius that everyone can enjoy. A genuine contender for film of the year, and it’s only February.