del Toro’s latest film, The Shape of Water is very much a fairy tale for adults, as well as sharing a kinship with the horror films of the 1950s, specifically, 1954’s The Creature From the Black Lagoon (as well as to Abe Sapien as seen in del Toro’s own Hellboy series). But in this film, it is very much the human monster that remains scariest of all.
The film takes a look at the outsiders; those who are different, the unaccepted, which in the 1950s, when the film is set, was a troubling amount of people, from African-Americans, to homosexuals, to any of those born, differently, and it tells the story through a Cold War monster movie fairy tale.
The extremely talented Sally Hawkins plays Elisa Esposito, an orphaned mute woman, who lives a lonely existence that is dictated only by her cleaning job at a government research facility, where she works with Zelda (Octavia Spencer).
Unseen, and ignored, they maintain the toilets, the labs, and the work areas, and get to see some troubling things. Including a new asset brought in by the facility’s new chief of security, Strickland (Michael Shannon), a vile, foul character who is easy to hate just from the dialogue he delivers.
The asset, discovered in the Amazon (much like its kin the Creature) is simply referred to as Amphibian Man, and is brought to life by del Toro’s go to performer, Doug Jones.
When Elisa meets the Amphibian Man, she sets off something, not only within the facility, but within herself, as for the first time, she feels accepted, understood, and possibly loved?
Giles (a standout turn by Richard Jenkins), plays Elisa’s neighbour, in the rundown apartments above the Orpheum theatre, a struggling artist, who struggles with being accepted by those around him for his homosexuality – there is the intimation that he lost his previous job because of it.
With the aid of Giles, Zelda, and a Russian spy (Micheal Stuhlbarg), Elisa comes up with a plan to rescue the Amphibian Man from his aquatic prison, but none of them will expect what happens next.
del Toro has made a beautiful film, with a haunting score by Alexander Desplat, fantastic music, beautiful performances, fantastic production design (recognisable Toronto neighbourhoods and locations) and an incredibly moving story, that encourages to leave behind the cynicism and hatred of the outside world, and just, for a couple of hours, believe in magic, love, and maybe, happy endings…
Gently paced, with each of the characters following their own arcs to fruition, The Shape of Water is a stunningly beautiful film that draws at the heart strings, reminds us of the magic of the movies, and makes us long for happy endings.
With this, del Toro proves once again, why he remains one of my all-time favourite directors.