The Shape of Water




Guillermo del Toro's latest is a romantic sci-fi fantasy steeped in nostalgia and menace.


Shape of Water, The

Making a Splash: Sally Hawkins with Doug Jones


It’s not every day that you come across a romantic sci-fi fantasy steeped in nostalgia and menace. Perhaps the most original film we are likely to see all year, The Shape of Water nonetheless recalls a number of unique classics, from Amélie to Beauty and the Beast via Cinema Paradiso, The Creature from the Black Lagoon and Splash. Based on an original idea by Guillermo del Toro and co-scripted by del Toro with the American scenarist Vanessa Taylor, it helps to know that Ms Taylor wrote fairy tales as a child and that del Toro is the director of Pan’s Labyrinth.


The Shape of Water is one of those superbly rendered pieces that defies all the rules and reminds one that the cinema can do absolutely anything if it puts its mind to it. The first shock is to see the Dulwich-born Sally Hawkins surrounded by a slew of heavyweight American character actors, all of whom play to their strengths. In the opening voice-over, the benign, considered tones of Richard Jenkins tells us of “the princess without voice” and “the monster who tries to destroy it all.” The monster is Colonel Richard Strickland, a cold-blooded establishment figure who looks down on anybody or anything that doesn’t fit in with his narrow view of what is all-American. As played by Michael Shannon, he is a suitably despicable figure, constantly crunching on cheap candy (when he’s not swigging on the hard stuff). But none of the stereotypes here stick to the expected norm. It’s hard not to supress a giggle when a thick-set Russian thug, chowing down on a slice of butter cake, asks for a glass of milk to go with it.


But what is The Shape of Water? It’s a hopelessly romantic adult fairy tale which reminds us not to fear what we don’t understand. It’s a timely piece, too, albeit set in Maryland in the early 1960s, when Mister Ed was on television and racism was still a way of life. Yet, no sooner do we think we’ve got the film clocked, than del Toro throws us a curveball. It’s sweet and funny, yes, but it’s got extremely sharp teeth. And while the entire cast excels, with Sally Hawkins driving the heart of the film with a heart-breaking tenderness, its production values are no less masterful, from Alexandre Desplat's exquisite score and Dan Laustsen's sublime cinematography to Sidney Wolinsky's seamless, ingenious editing. After his misconceived Pacific Rim (2013) and Crimson Peak (2015), Guillermo del Toro returns to the top of his game with verve. It’s a revelation.




Cast: Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Doug Jones, Michael Stuhlbarg, Octavia Spencer, Nick Searcy, John Kapelos.


Dir Guillermo del Toro, Pro Guillermo del Toro and J. Miles Dale, Screenplay Guillermo del Toro and Vanessa Taylor, Ph Dan Laustsen, Pro Des Paul D. Austerberry, Ed Sidney Wolinsky, Music Alexandre Desplat, Costumes Luis Sequeira.


Double Dare You Productions-20th Century Fox.

123 mins. USA/Canada. 2017. Rel: 14 February 2018. Cert. 15.