Guillermo Del Toro’s latest escapist fantasy tells a familiar fairytale of freak love between human and creature.
However the director’s fastidious eye for the darkly fantastical, juxtaposed with an even darker reality, along with intelligent, era-specific social commentary which helps contextualise and ground its narrative, and nuanced, expertly written characters make this tale more akin to the esoteric lovechild of Amelie and Creature from the Black Lagoon, than simply Beauty and the Amphibious Fish Beast.
Del Toro’s eye for cinematic flair and love of cinema’s history shines both in The Shape of Water’s cinematography and its unexpected charms; the influence of arthouse cinema, classic Hollywood musicals and Universal’s monster movies all show their mark. Sally Hawkins reserved, emotive performance as the films unconventional mute lead, along with a stellar supporting cast; Michael Shannon’s reticent, volatile antagonist being a highlight, convincingly deliver this tale with authenticity. The film’s organic representation of gender, race and sexuality additionally aid in legitimizing and fleshing out its 1960’s setting, in turn accentuating its fantastical central story.
Complimenting this strong foundation, Alexandre Desplat’s poignant, enchanting score ebbs and flows, sparkles and swells, creating an auditory accompaniment which is equally plaintive and stirring while managing the pace of the film to great effect. The colour palette; composed of muted, aquatic hues in the film’s first act, later merging into warm golden tones in its latter half, act to subtly enforce this enthralling atmosphere whilst reflecting shifts in both narrative and tone.
Along with meticulous attention to period detail, character developing continuity and dialogue which shimmers with understated humour and poeticism, these components converge to create a superbly paced piece of cinema which seamlessly glides between beauty and brutality, intensity and charm, and ultimately leaves one feeling wholly enraptured, albeit a little disturbed.
By Max Taylor