The Shape of Water (2017) Movie Review

Guillermo Del Toro has long been one of my favorite filmmakers, yet the opportunity to see one of his films in theaters has eluded me… until now. After months of waiting, The Shape of Water finally arrived at a theater near me, and despite some minor setbacks on the way there, I was able to attend a screening at The Art Theater in Champaign Illinois. Did The Shape of Water hold up to all the hype for me? Read on for my thoughts on this wonderful film.

The Shape of Water is the latest film from filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth 2006) from a script he wrote with Vanessa Taylor (Divergent 2014). The film stars Sally Hawkins (Godzilla 2014), Michael Shannon (Bug 2006), Richard Jenkins (Bone Tomahawk 2015), Octavia Spencer (Insurgent 2015), Michael Stuhlbarg (Arrival 2016), Doug Jones (Pan’s Labyrinth 2006), David Hewlett (Cube 1997), and Nick Searcy (Neighborhood Watch 2006).

At a top secret research facility in the 1960s, a lonely janitor forms a unique relationship with an amphibious creature that is being held in captivity.

The Shape of Water holds the distinction of being one of the best theater experiences I’ve ever had, with the only thing coming close being the time I saw Return of the Living Dead with Linnea Quigley in attendance. The crowd absolutely loved the movie. They laughed at all the jokes, jumped in the right places, and even uttered shit or fuck when something crazy happened. The film ended and everyone clapped.

From the opening minutes, I knew I was going to love the film. It’s beautifully shot. The music perfectly sets the mood for any given scene. The FX are amazing and the cast and story are excellent. Much like Pan’s Labyrinth and Crimson Peak, The Shape of Water is a fairy tale for adults. The story follows two unique individuals meeting and falling in love under unusual circumstances. One of them just happens to be an fish man. A lot of fuss has been made about the film’s focus on bestiality (the Kevin Smith fan in me prefers to think of it as, “Interspecies Erotica, Fucko”), but really that’s only a small portion of the film and is really quite tame. The focus is truly on two unique and vulnerable people taking a chance and letting each other in, despite the overwhelming odds against them, mainly being that one is being held against his will in a government lab.

As previously stated, the cast is phenomenal. Sally Hawkins is captivating as Elisa, a mute who grew up in an orphanage and has no clue where she comes from. Despite all the hardship Elisa has had to face, she looks at everything with a positive and cheery outlook and her enthusiasm for life it utterly infectious. Doug Jones, as always, throws himself completely into the role of The Amphibian Man, who has been dragged away from the only home he knows and shipped halfway around the world to be kept prisoner and possibly be dissected for science. The chemistry between Elisa and The Amphibian Man is palpable, with them frequently going out of their way to protect each other, risking their lives and livelihood to keep each other safe. Frankly, they are adorable together.

Richard Jenkins and Octavia Spencer are wonderful as Giles and Zelda, Elisa’s only friends and support system, who against their better judgement, band together to help their friend achieve the happiness she seeks. Michael Shannon, per usual, does a great job playing an unlikable asshole as Strickland, the villain of the piece. Just when I didn’t think I could hate him any more, he would do something even more despicable and my hatred would grow.

Final Thoughts

The Shape of Water is a beautiful fairy tale for adults. The film is gorgeous to look at, features an emotionally engaging and frequently funny story, and an excellent cast that makes the characters feel like real people who you actually care about. If you are a fan of Guillermo Del Toro’s previous films, love fairy tales with some darkness to them, or just like films that tell great stories, then I can’t recommend The Shape of Water enough.

About Charlie Cargile

Central Illinois based film journalist. Lover of cinema of all varieties but in love with films with an independent spirit. Elder Emo. Cat Dad. Metalhead.

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