Throughout his critically acclaimed career, it is clear that Guillermo Del Toro has always possessed a fundamental fascination with fantastical horror fairy-tales. From the supernatural hauntings of The Devil’s Backbone (2001) to the mysterious but captivating world of Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), he has a passion for film-making that presents vivid and hallucinatory universes that take the audience to an unconventional sphere. His tenth feature film, The Shape of Water, is no exception: a mystical and magical love story that breaks the boundaries of familiarity.
Elisa, “the princess without a voice”, is our mute but optimistic protagonist. A devotee of old movies and music, she lives above a Dream Palace-esque movie theatre, and works as a cleaner at a top secret research facility. After coming across an amphibious creature (Doug Jones) that is being held in captivity, a unique romance between woman and sea creature ensues. Elisa, along with her artist neighbour Giles (Richard Jenkins) and feisty colleague Zelda (Octavia Spencer) must do whatever it takes to rescue the extraordinary being from the clutches of government agent Strickland (Michael Shannon).
The Shape of Water displays Del Toro’s noticeable admiration for cinematic and televisual history. From the references to Hollywood classic Mardi Gras and sitcom Mister Ed to the music of Marilyn Monroe and Carmen Miranda, the film not only transports you into another world, but into a cherished past. In one particular scene, Elisa and the creature personify Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in a black-and-white dance sequence. In another, Elisa feeds the creature whilst Glenn Miller’s “I Know Why” pleasantly plays in the background. Del Toro’s distinctive use of nostalgia and sentimentality crafts a distinctive bond between audience and film, some of whom will be swept back on a wistful journey of childhood memory.
Del Toro has produced a fantastical fairy tale that will inevitably go down in history as one of his best works. His rich and imaginative story receives sumptuous support by the haunting yet alluring melodies of Alexandre Desplat’s score, and the visually appealing green and teal tones of Paul D. Austerberry’s production designs. Together with Dan Laustsen’s immersive cinematography that flows through each scene like water, the film satisfies the necessities for success. What would normally be deemed a bizarre and ridiculous subject is poetically brought to life. But this is not just an abnormal tale of romance. The Shape of Water’s tagline is “a fairy tale for a troubled times”. Del Toro has created a film that thrives in providing a voice to society’s ‘losers’, and portraying a unique romance of recluses in a Trump-era of anxiety and discrimination. Del Toro recently stated that “it doesn’t matter what shape we put love into, it becomes that, whether it’s man, woman or creature”. Through a unique blend of imagination and realism, it gives the important message that love is limitless. The Shape of Water is a sublime and wistful wonder, the shape of which is magnificently multi-sided.
Matt Weaver March '18