Beautiful, poignant, & reminiscent of a lost Golden Age Hollywood, Guillermo del Torro’s masterpiece on the transcendence of beauty is a film for the ages. 9.6/10.
The Shape of Water follows Elisa, a mute janitor working in a high-security government facility in 1962 Baltimore. Her life changes forever when she discovers the lab’s classified secret — a mysterious, scaled creature 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.
*Possible spoilers ahead*
Review: Wow. I just left the theater having seen Guillermo del Torro’s latest tour de force ‘The Shape of Water’ and my jaw is firmly on the ground. A tribute to Golden Age Hollywood and 1954’s Creature from the Black Lagoon, the film is set after the events of the original film and follows a mute janitor named Elisa working in a government facility in 1962 Baltimore whose life is forever changed when she discovers the lab’s classified secret. Beautiful, poignant, & reminiscent of a lost Golden Age Hollywood, Guillermo del Torro’s masterpiece reflection on the transcendence of beauty is one of the most powerful films of the decade.
First, the look. The film is jaw-droppingly gorgeous in its cinematography, CGI, and visuals. Using deep sea tints and a fluid camera, del Torro vividly paints and brings to life such things as underwater scenes, a sea creature familiar and emotive, yet otherworldly and mystifying (brought to life with some of the best creature CGI/make-up design I’ve ever seen), and painstakingly crafted and authentic 50’s atmosphere with attention to detail in everything from the cars, signs, programs, and music to the laboratory with something sinister hidden underneath its seemingly harmless exterior.
Next, the performances. The acting in The Shape of Water is top-notch and surgically executed. Led by Sally Hawkins’ performance of a lifetime that is so transcendent and skillful that she doesn’t even need words to paint the character and intense emotional journey we’re led on through her eyes, Doug Jones’ performance bringing a terrifying and alienated sea creature to life while also having to paint that there’s more to him behind his eyes and a humanlike psyche, Michael Shannon’s chilling villain that really makes you truly despise his character, yet also see some of our own human ugliness in him in things like how much we disrespect nature and even, at times, feel sorry for him (the sign of a good, richly-written villain in that we can feel empathy towards him too to go along with the scares, especially in the Dimitri showdown in the rain and Sampson story with Octavia). Octavia Spencer and Richard Jenkins also give great performances in their supporting roles of sassy and talkative best friend and opposite timid neighbor, respectively. They are hilarious and do provide great comic relief, but sometimes lay it on a little too thickly with some jokes that feel somewhat misplaced (especially the sex ones like the one involving corn flakes; you’ll know when you see it). That is my only problem with the film and a virtually nonexistent one when considering the big picture and vast triumph.
The pacing and breadth of storytelling, as well as the scoring help elevate this film into All-Time great level as well. the pacing is snappy and doesn’t leave you even a split second to be bored over its perfect 2 hour length. Every act is just as strong as the last with with the final act taking the cake as one of the most powerful and beautiful endings I’ve ever seen in a film both visually and symbolically. This is helped achieved through the truly remarkable scoring by Alexandre Desplat. Desplat gives the score of his career and one that should without question win the Oscar (film is nominated for 13 at the moment, deserving of every one) with how transportive, varied swinging between charismatic period pieces setting the environmental to heavy hitting rich orchestral scores that fluidly sweep through the emotional sequences and final act that literally brought me to tears how beautifully executed it was.
Finally, the nostalgia and symbolism. The Shape of Water is one of the most powerful films I’ve seen in just how beautiful its message and higher purpose is. Storytelling is supposed to elicit emotion: happiness, sadness, fear, regret, etc. The Shape of Water delivers everything we go to the movies for: drama, laughs, richly-developed and skillfully acted characters, rich scoring, breathtaking visuals, and a story we can not only see our humanity in but one that speaks to us on a higher level. Illustrating the transcendence of beauty and idea that love is bigger than just what the eyes can see, the film is overwhelming to the senses and a true masterpiece in what it achieved with a premise that I’ll be the first one to admit sounded questionable on paper being a fairy-tale between two different species set in 1962 Baltimore.
The nostalgia and invocation of a forgotten era of Golden Age Hollywood, with meticulous attention to detail and the art of passionate filmmaking, is what puts this film up there with my All-Time favorites. I love modern movies for the spectacle, but they often lack the true soul and essence of the classics: when film wasn’t just about making money or who can get the biggest Box Office, but a way to showcase art like any Picasso or van Gogh. Guillermo del Torro takes us back to a simpler time with things like a majestic red and gold leaf-clad cinema that wreaks of motion picture history, grand musical numbers in glorious original black-and-white, and the film’s premise alone being a sequel of sorts to a film made over half a century ago. Overall, The Shape of Water is a beautiful, poignant tribute to classic, no-nonsense and one of the best and most powerful films not only of this year, but of this decade.
Official CLC Score: 9.6/10