It’s been two days since I watched Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water, and I’m still finding it difficult to put into words what makes this movie so special. Perhaps that’s because it’s a film that speaks to our emotions and senses more than our intellect. It’s a simple Beauty and Beast tale about a mute cleaning woman (Sally Hawkins), who works for a government lab during the cold war, falling in love with an aquatic creature housed within the facility. The script may be somewhat conventional, but it’s the execution by all involved that really makes this film an instant classic.
The Shape of Water is the result of a team of people coming together and bringing the best of what they’ve spent entire careers honing. When preparing for Pan’s Labyrinth, del Toro spent several years studying fairy tales, gaining a detailed knowledge and understanding of how they work, which he was able to apply in many ways here. del Toro has often balanced popcorn entertainment with sensitive works, and if Pacific Rim was on the extreme side of the former, this film strikes the perfect balance. As romantic and beautiful as the work is, you know del Toro won’t let you get away without a few moments that will make you squirm.
The main cast are all playing roles that are tailored to their specific strengths. In her silent performance, Sally Hawkins can say more with a look than most actors can with an monologue. Richard Jenkins plays her loner artist friend/ narrator and brings the appropriate amount of pathos and humour to the role. And Michael Shannon once again plays the creepy baddie to perfection. Even Doug Jones, who plays the creature (aka ‘The Asset’), who has dawned many body suits in del Toro’s films and dozens of other monster movies, shows off what he’s learned in the past several decades of being a purely physical performer. It’s a little fishy how deep the parallels between The Asset and Hellboy’s Abe Sapien (also played by Jones) go, right down to their love of eggs.
It almost feels tacky to talk about awards with regards to this film, but it’s certainly destined for several in addition to those it’s already received (it won the Golden Lion at Venice last week). Not that it’s high art or meant to serve some kind of deep purpose, but because it was clearly made for people, not academies.