'The Shape of Water,' a love story as beautiful as a Shakespearean sonnet

THE SHAPE OF WATER. Photo by Kerry Hayes. © 2017 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved

The Shape of Water
4.5 out of 5 Stars
Guillermo del Toro
Writer: Guillermo del Toro, Vanessa Taylor
Starring: Sally Hawkins, Octavia Spencer, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Doug Jones
Genre: Fantasy, Drama
Rated: R for sexual content, graphic nudity, violence and language

Synopsis: Set in 1962, Elisa, a mute janitor at a secret government research facility, develops a unique bond with an exotic aquatic creature.

Review: Nostalgia suggests that life was wonderful in the 1960s, but the reality of the era tells a completely different story. The cookie-cutter existence favored the straight, Caucasian male and gave little to no representation for anyone else. This inequity is at the heart of director/writer Guillermo del Toro’s latest film, “The Shape of Water.”

Sally Hawkins stars as Elisa, a mute woman, who works as a janitor at a government science facility. The Cold War is raging, but Elisa and her friend Zelda (Octavia Spencer), are given full access to the nooks and crannies of the operation. What harm could a black woman and a mute possibly do? Elisa and Zelda might as well be invisible.

Giles (Richard Jenkins), Elisa’s closeted-gay neighbor, is equally unseen. He spends a fair amount of time painting for the advertising firm he was fired from, watching old musicals and collecting key lime pie from the friendly gentleman at a local diner.

Outside of Giles and Zelda, Elisa is alone. Alone and unwanted, until a strange and exotic creature (Doug Jones) arrives at the facility.

Once worshiped as a god, the creature is chained and tortured in the name of science. Government and military leaders look to unlock the mysteries of this unusual being in hopes of learning something that will give them an advantage in the Space Race with the Soviets.

A bond develops between Elisa and the creature.

On the surface, “The Shape of Water” is a pulpy piece of science fiction with a Universal Monsters sensibility. The creature, while capable of violence, is not inherently evil. The same cannot be said about the military official, Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon), who has become a dedicated cog in the process. Strickland cares little about the creature despite the continual efforts of his scientist cohort, Dr. Robert Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg).

From Nigel Churcher’s exquisite art design to Dan Laustsen’s gorgeous cinematography, “The Shape of Water” is a deeply sensual and beautiful film about love. Like del Toro’s “Pan’s Labyrinth,” this is a dark fairytale with a wide-eye central character that exudes innocence. It is magical, and unique much like its aquatic leading man. The performances are fantastic, the themes are more than timely and the sense of wonder will leave your breathless.

Doused in the vivid imagination of Guillermo del Toro, "The Shape of Water" is a magical and poignant experience where the director reminds us once again that unusual creatures are the least of our problems.

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