Movie Review with Brandon Yechout – The Shape of Water

While watching Guillermo del Toro’s “The Shape of Water,” I felt that it was, in many ways, much unlike the director’s previous work. Later reading about the film, I came across a quote from del Toro reaffirming my initial reaction. He describes his other films as representative of the “fears” and “dreams of his childhood,” and says that this is the first time he’s spoken “as an adult” in his work. Interesting he should say such a thing about this film in particular, as I would consider it to be among the most whimsical of all his films, at least the ones I’ve seen.

Before we continue, a quick synopsis of the film’s plot. In the early 1960s, a mute janitor called Elisa works in an expansive secret laboratory in Baltimore, whereupon she comes across a fish-like humanoid referred to only as “the Asset.” While others in the lab, especially its capturer, the uncouth and despicable Colonel Strickland, are cruel to the Asset, and see it as little more than an animal, Elisa begins developing a relationship with the creature, feeding it boiled eggs and bringing records to play for it. She explains to her best friend, Giles, her connection to the Asset, saying that he doesn’t see her as incomplete, and sees her for only her. When Strickland concludes that the Asset is to be vivisected, Elisa must devise a way to help the creature escape the facility.

Firstly, I should say that all of the performances in this film are top-notch. Sally Hawkins and Michael Shannon especially, both do an excellent job in their roles, with Hawkins portraying a wealth of emotions through only her facial expressions, and Shannon appropriately scummy as the film’s antagonist. The film’s look, while not anything particularly outstanding, is pleasant and fitting, making use of an aquatic color palette consisting mostly of subdued blues and greens. The score is also great, and just as playful as the premise of the film.

The film works wonderfully well as a modern fairytale for adults, but, in spite of its many successes, I found it to be lacking in the poignancy and wild creativity of some of del Toro’s previous work. The film aims for themes of loneliness; Elisa, Giles, and the Asset are all lonely because they are different, and are looked down upon by others. Elisa is able to empathise with the Asset as a result of this, and the two quickly develop a bond. Unfortunately, I feel the film is too charming to have the impact of a “Pan’s Labyrinth” or “The Devil’s Backbone,” two of del Toro’s previous films. That’s not to say that “The Shape of Water” needs to be as brutal as either of those films; a film so unabashedly unromanticized as that would then cease to be a fairytale (and no, I don’t consider “Pan’s Labyrinth” to be an adult fairytale, as many have called it). I’m simply saying that, while the film realizes its goals in spectacular fashion, for me, it never quite crosses over into “masterpiece” territory.

It’s fair to say that “The Shape of Water” has become the darling film of 2017, easily raking in the most Oscar nominations, including Best Actress, Best Director, and even Best Picture. Though I clearly wasn’t as enamored with the film as most others were, I cannot deny that this is simply an exceptional film and a solid effort from del Toro. Brando’s rating? Three-and-a-half out of four stars.