THE SHAPE OF WATER
A review by Stephen Radosh

 
 
In “The Shape of Water,” director Guillermo del Toro has delivered a film with much to say on many universal themes while still delivering a beautiful looking picture with a well-paced plot which reaches a finale that is at once both exciting and truly touching.  In a seamless and thoroughly integrated way, he combines elements of 1950’s classic horror films, notably CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, with touches of classic fairy tales and with movies about those on the outside of mainstream society who yearn to be like most people and whose main desire is simply to be loved for who they are.  The result is a film that is riveting from the first frame to the last.
The fairy tale element to the story is supported by the rich visuals (a trademark of Del Toro) of the film’s early 1960’s world,.  The cold-hearted laboratory is all hard edges in varying shades of grey, while the apartment in which Elisa, the film’s central character, lives is warm, soft and filled with hues of green and gold despite that it is in a state of advanced deterioration. 

Every member of the cast is exceptional.  Sally Hawkins, who plays Elisa, turns in a mesmerizing performance as a mute cleaning-woman in a government run laboratory dedicated to questionable research.  One day a new top secret ‘asset’ arrives; a large water tank containing a creature (played by Doug Jones) who seems to be part human, part reptilian and part fish.  Elisa and her co-worker and friend Zelda (Octavia Spencer) are given the job to keep the area around the tank, which is sealed off from the rest of the lab by huge metal doors, clean and dry. 
It doesn’t take long for a relationship to develop between Elisa and the creature.  She brings him hard boiled eggs, which he seems to really love, and, on a small phonograph, plays music which seems to really fascinate him. 
The villain of the piece is a sadistic and power crazed colonel (Michael Shannon at his most menacing) who is ordered by a General to kill the monster, an assignment that is music to his ears. However, Dr. Robert Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg) who also works there believes that the creature must be studied but he is also working undercover for the Russians who want to make sure the Americans do not get a chance to study the creature.  The cold war was sooooo complicated!
Learning of the creature’s death order, Elisa enlists the help of her closeted gay roommate Giles (Richard Jenkins), to rescue the creature.  Any further plot details would be major spoilers. Let’s just say that del Toro provides plenty of twists before arriving at what might be the most romantic scene of any film released in 2017.
Special mention must also go to the performances of Richard Jenkins and Doug Jones.  As Giles, Mr. Jenkins delivers a touching and delicate performance of a gay man who has hidden himself away from the world which will not accept him for who he is.
As the creature, Doug Jones manages to convey a range of emotions while under layers of heavy make-up and prosthetics.  His fluid body motion (pun intended) easily conveys everything from fear to anger to love making the creature someone the audience truly cares about, just as Elisa does.
THE SHAPE OF WATER is one of my favorite films of 2017 and for 119 minutes, I was transported into a universe that only the inspired imagination of Guillermo del Toro can create.