Kyle J. Steenblik

The Shape of Water is Brilliant and Beautiful [Review]

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The Shape of Water
Directed by: Guillermo del Toro
Written by: Guillermo del Toro, Vanessa Taylor
Starring: Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Doug Jones, Michael Stuhlbarg, Octavia Spencer
Production companies: Double Dare You Productions
Distributed by Fox Searchlight Pictures
Release date December 1, 2017
Running time 123 minutes
Rated R for sexual content, graphic nudity, violence and language

5 stars out of 5

Elisa (Sally Hawkins) is a mute, isolated woman whose only friends are her neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins) who is a closeted commercial artist, and her black co-worker Zelda(Octavia Spencer). Elisa and Zelda are cleaning ladies in a high-security government laboratory in 1962 Baltimore. When one day Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon) shows up with a highly classified living asset. Dirven by her curiosity Elisa discovers a mysterious, amphibious creature (Doug Jones) from South America that lives in a water tank. As Elisa develops a unique bond with her new friend, she soon learns that its fate and very survival lies in the hands of a hostile government agent and a marine biologist.

In what may very well be one of the most bizarre romantic films I’ve ever seen Guillermo del Toro transports the audience into a story that has no boundaries. By taking a figuratively abstract concept and giving it life in an extraordinary way. The Shape of Water blends generals seamlessly, as it also effortlessly weaves a complex fabric of characters, society, and history, to serve as the backdrop for a fantastical tale.

As referenced in the synopsis the main character Elisa is mute, she communicates through sign language. This is an integral part of the film, and the way it is handled feels perfectly natural. Much of the time her signing is subtitled, but often it is not, and her dialogue is expressed through conversational replies and translators. This not only adds an additional visual element to her character, it establishes the basis for her communication with the creature. Of course, she would figure out a way to communicate, she has had to find ways to communicate her entire life. It is a brilliant way to set up, and overcome that hurdle, without additional exposition. That is just one example. The background of the civil rights movement, the cold war, modernization, and the military industrial complex, are all used as narrative and character development steppingstones.

In short, this is one of, if not the, most creative and beautiful films I have ever seen. It could take dozens of viewings to catch the nuance of every scene, the arc of each character, and then I would still be in awe of the display of the boundless nature of love del Toro managed to commit to film.

Don’t forget to check out Rants and Reels for my first impression review as well.

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