The Shape of Water
Stars: Sally Hawkins, Octavia Spencer, Richard Jenkins, Michael Shannon, Doug Jones
Del Toro’s follow-up to the disappointingly anonymous sci-fi action pic Pacific Rim marks a real return to form. It’s an intoxicating and swooning melange of Douglas Sirk-style ‘women’s picture’ melodrama and atomic age monster b-movie (think: The Creature from the Black Lagoon).
Hawkins is Elisa, a mute woman who works as a cleaner at a top secret Baltimore research facility at the height of the Cold War. A massive fan of Hollywood musicals, her only friends are her gay artist neighbour Giles (Jenkins) and fellow cleaner Zelda (Spencer). When she witnesses the treatment being meted out to the laboratory’s newest specimen, a fearsome humanoid sea monster (Jones) at the hands of sadistic facility head Strickland (Shannon), Elisa decides to act. In the process of liberating the monster, an intimate relationship blossoms.
Del Toro has fashioned a spellbindingly dark fairy tale that sports immaculate production design (the facility in particular is a dank, stygian marvel) and luscious photography. The director also manages to steer clear of the Tim Burton-style dark whimsy this could easily have fallen into, due in part to some graphic gore, as well as a frank depiction of the exact nature of Elisa and the monster’s relationship.
Heading up a very impressive cast Sally Hawkins once more demonstrates her unique ability to take characters who, in lesser hands, might be considered twee or ingratiating and make them totally relatable.
The picture also works as a plea for tolerance, mutual respect and diversity, while never feeling didactic or overly earnest.