The Shape Of Water – Movie Review

movie reviewAfter “The Shape Of Water” won the Oscar I was very interested to see what it’s all about. I was interested before, but not to a “need to see this on the big screen” level. Now I made some time, had a great evening with some nice company and watched a really nice movie to round out the evening. Does the film live up to the hype? Well, let’s see.

Elisa (Sally Hawkins) is a mute, young woman working as a janitor in a secret government science laboratory facility during the early days of the cold war. We see her every day life and her daily routine. She’s kind of lonely but surrounds herself with some very close and dear friends with which she is quite happy with. One day she and her colleague/friend Zelda (Octavia Spencer) cleaning up a lab room when there is suddenly a transfer happening and a weird container is brought in. Along with the container we meet Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon). Strickland turns out to be some kind of overseer to that new project and he leaves no doubt about what kind of person he is. Dr. Robert Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg) is also there, as the lead scientist. The film doesn’t pull any punshes and, along with the characters in the film, we early on see the Amphibian Man (Doug Jones) who is captured in that container/laboratory. Elisa, right from the get go, is very curious and interested in that creature. So it happens that, over the course of the first two acts of the film, she builds a connection and friendship to the Amphibian Man. When Strickland decides to kill the creature, Elisa and her friends along with Hoffstetler, decide to break the Amphibian Man out of the lab to save him. Elisa hides him. A sweet romance starts between them. Strickland is on their heels though and trying get to the creature to kill it. Meanwhile the creature becomes sick and needs to get back into the ocean. Which leads to a nice finale, where everyone plays a part.

I’ve seldomly seen a film that manages to find the right balance between so many different genres. There is literally something for everyone in here. We have romance, character study, tiny parts of history, drama, small doses of horror and comedy in here. Even a small musical number! And it all goes hand in hand. Nothing gets in the way of the other. You could argue that a film, so diverse in the genres it’s moving in, may be too much of everything but not grounded enough in a specific genre. And yes, most of the times that is a point of critique. But I find that Del Toro made it work here. He found the right balance between the genres he wanted to cover. It just flows… like water. The only aspect I can see not working a 100% is the romance part. When you’re not watching closely you might miss a certain hint that kind of explaines why Elisa is drawn to the creature. If you miss that part, the romance elements may feel a little too far-fetched.

Acting wise it’s all perfectly solid work by all involved. There are some great scenes with Michael Shannon as Strickland, that are wonderfully disgusting. Shannon is such a good actor. You can see how he enjoyed being the bad guy in this film. Sally Hawkins, playing the mute woman and our main protagonist, also delivers a superb performance. Especially since she cannot use her voice, all her emotions have to be expressed by her face and body. She makes it work. Then we have Giles, played by Richard Jenkins, who is an out of luck advertising illustrator in his 60s living next to Elisa. Both of them have a strong bond and both of them are lonely… so both support each other. Jenkins also does a very lovely job with his character, making Giles a very relatable person. Then we have Robert Hoffstetler – the lead scientist played by Michael Stuhlbarg. Stuhlbarg manages to appear in pretty much every movie I liked recently. Another very relatable character that is mixed up in a russian spy plot within the film. There is quite some stuff going on in this film and these nice characters/actors hold it all together very well. I never felt lost and always knew what was going on.

Never feeling lost and always knowing what’s going on in a film is certainly a sign of good writing. The film budget was around $20m and it’s remarkable what quality we get. A 20 million budget could nowadays be categorized as a low budget film. At least in Hollywood terms. Technically the film appears pretty much flawless. Camera, Production Design, Presentation, Music, Script, Direction, Acting… it all works. Now the questions is, will it become a classic? It certainly has all the right ingredients. But maybe the romance part between Elisa and the creature is a tiny bit off putting for some audiences? However, I think it’s all presented in a tasteful manner and surely make the movie a little more special. It’s also notable how the films with less of a budget pretty much always turn out to be the good ones. Well, yeah… Blade Runner 2049 was plain magic and amazing with its 200 million budget… but it’s so rare with these high budget films.


The Shape Of Water on IMDb

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