The Shape of Water, the latest work from Guillermo del Toro, proclaims to be a tale of love and loss and the monster who tried to destroy it all. If you are familiar with del Toro’s previous works, then you will know that the real monsters are not always the ones with the scary exteriors. Such is the case in this classic love story involving a woman who finds love in the most unexpected place.
Working as a cleaner in a government laboratory, Elisa (Sally Hawkins) lives a rather isolated life. Mute since she was a child, she only interacts with her co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer) and her neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins). One night she stumbles upon a strange amphibious creature (Doug Jones) who has been brought into the facility from South America by a ruthless federal agent named Strickland (Michael Shannon). Determined not to let the Russians get a of beast, Strickland’s brutal treatment of the creature does not sit well with Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg), the head scientist for the project. As the men attempt to unlock the mysteries of the being, little do they know that Elisa has not only figured out how to communicate with “the asset”, but has secretly formed a friendship with the creature.
A richly layered love story wrapped in the glow of classic cinema, The Shape of Water is a truly magical experience. Filled with rich visuals, a superb creature design and references to films of the past, it is easy to geek out on what del Toro achieves here. This is especially true for a fantasy sequence that is so undeniably charming and touching, that it will warm even the coldest hearts.
The true splendor of this beauty and beast style fairy tale resides in Sally Hawkins’s brilliantly subtle performance. She is not only the heart and soul of the film, but makes the audience believe in the undeniable power of love. Few actors could pull of the difficult task of selling an unconventional romance such as this, and adding a sensual element to it no less, but Hawkins does so in spades.
Guillermo del Toro does add some social subtext to The Shape of Water related to the racism and homophobia in 1962, but the film never dives too deep in that regards. This is a love story first and foremost, and it is a magnificent one at that.
Sunday, September 17, 6:30 PM, Elgin Theatre
Tickets can be purchased at the TIFF website.