The Shape of Water

Image from the film The Shape of Water
The Shape of Water [2017] is Guillermo del Toro’s project involving the entities he probably feels most akin to: monsters. Centered on a non-verbal maid at a top-secret government facility, everything becomes quite strange and dangerous when she and the 'manphibian' in captivity develop a sensual and compassionate relationship. Del Toro’s story is brought to life with top-notch performances from Sally Hawkins, Octavia Spencer, Richard Jenkins, Michael Stuhlbarg, and Michael Shannon. Wow...Michael Stuhlbarg was busy this year!

Palate Cleansing: The last memorable monster movie del Toro directed was Hellboy 2: The Golden Army. Crimson Peak fell short of expectations and unless you watched a supercut of the fight scenes in Pacific Rim, again you were left wanting something more. The Shape of Water is not about a giant monster wreaking havoc on a town or explosions; the simplistic approach to the theory of monsters makes the film del Toro’s best work since Pan’s Labyrinth. The characters in the film also lent a hand in helping the film feel fresh. The family-like relationship that non-verbal Elisa (Hawkins) and period-displaced homosexual Giles (Jenkins) offers a more enjoyable subplot that allows the audience to identify smaller heroic moments from those who are anything but heroic.

Theory of Monsters: What is a monster? Del Toro’s film suggests that monsters do not have scales, gills, black eyes, claws, and horns. No, he suggests monsters are the violent, discriminate fanatics in our world. Strickland (Shannon) is a culmination of the judgemental culture that was America decades ago. His battle against the 'manphibian' is grounded in a critique of theology and eugenics. In the current cultural climate, del Toro’s theory of a monster may hit home and be more relatable than ever.

Technical/Musical Elements: The Shape of Water looks and sounds remarkably beautiful. The francophile approach to the film’s atmosphere tends to make it feel more like a fairy tale. Alexandre Desplat has an enchanting score that begins and ends the film, giving an emotionally rounded experience. Set design is a huge achievement as well. The homes are minimalistic but art-driven and the industrial settings are dark and life-sucking. This thematic dichotomy between “home sweet home” and the worksite adds substance to the appearance of the “monsters” in the film as they correspond to their surroundings.

Stolen Moments: The Shape of Water fails to show enough. The love arc between Elisa and the 'manphibian' and the slope into insanity for Strickland happens suddenly and with no real meaning other than pleasure and the loss of control, respectively. These two causes are much too elementary in order to understand why the characters make their choices. The script forces the audience to just believe the manifestation of love and insanity but with a film that takes a high-art approach to every other aspect, I cannot help but feel robbed del Toro did not give a complete delivery on the development of his characters.

The Shape of Water is a magical fairy tale that questions the idea of what makes up a monster. Guillermo del Toro put a lot into the beginning and end of this film and wanted to challenge our ideals but lost some of the development of character choices.

Watch The Shape of Water