The Shape of Water (2018) Film Review

Guillermo Del Toro returns with one of the surprise hits of the awards season. Del Toro delves back into the world of monsters. Now with an unlikely romance between human and monster.

The Shape of Water revolves around a mute woman, Elisa, who lives with a closeted gay man and works at a secret government facility as a cleaner. She lives as an outcast due to her ailment but one day she comes across a tank at work that has a sea monster inside of it. Elisa start to get attracted to the monster. However, in the brunt of the Cold War, Colonel Strickland played by Michael Shannon, is ordered to vivisect the sea monster to see if they can get an upper hand on the Russians. Elisa aims to protect the sea creature at all costs.

The Shape of Water is again another love letter to cinematic monsters by Del Toro. Del Toro is weird but wonderful, what better way to create a love letter then to actually create a romance between human and monster. Del Toro has a huge a passion for creatures and The Shape of Water is a seminal example of this. We get the general public’s reaction to the monster with Strickland, who fears the monster and attacks it and then we get to see Del Toro’s interpretation, a deeper passion for the different.

It is as if Del Toro is Elisa, not saying he wants to be in a relationship with a sea creature but we can finally see Del Toro’s found beauty in them. (Just Google Del Toro’s Monster Museum and you will see the amount of passion and pride he puts into his monsters) The Shape of Water is fantastically beautiful. The connection between the two characters is charming with a hint of subtlety. The courting between woman and sea humanoid brings a warmth to the film that is surrounded by the horrors of being an outcast.

Being an outcast is a constant theme throughout the film. Set in 1960’s America, it is by no accident that Elisa is surrounded by a closeted gay man and an African-American woman, these in the 60’s were considered outside of the norm of society. The similarities that these three characters shared with the monster was interesting. All three human characters were themselves considered monsters, feared and hurt because of it. This is also the heart of the film, Elisa understood the creatures pain of being locked away and misunderstood. She had lived her whole life as a monster and no-one would treat her fairly or understand her till she met someone who was also considered a monster.

This is Del Toro’s finest work, the subtle beauty, the consistent charm and the absolute horror of the character Strickland, that is amazingly played by Michael Shannon. His character is so full of evil and fear that his presence is terrifying. Lacking remorse or forgiveness, his only aim is to kill the monster in the most painful way possible and will do anything to achieve this. I don’t think I have seen a performance by Shannon that has disappointed me and this film still proves this. However the star of the film is Elisa, played by the wonderful Sally Hawkins. For an actress that plays someone that is mute, the role is mostly physical and even though mute, she has the loudest presence in every scene. Hawkins beautifully shows the hidden pain that she has always had to burden just through expression. Hawkins was detrimental in making the audience believe that one could fall in love with a sea creature and she pulls it off without saying a word and it is fantastic.

Sublime imagery, a gentle score and wonderfully charming story that twists the conventions of a cinematic romance, The Shape of Water is beautiful, charming, funny but horrific at times. The cinematography is alluring and implicit that carefully paints an artistic portrayal of the romance of two outcasts. The Shape of Water fantastically pulls the audience into believing that a relationship with a human and monster is and makes it an absolute delight to watch.


Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

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