How best to describe the current film “The Shape of Water?” Science Fiction? Fantasy? Romance? Drama? Thriller? How about all of the aforementioned. The Academy Award nominated film is certainly unique. The film features a creature straight out of a cheesy 1950’s sci-fi film, but that aspect is merely a homage. The film is the story of Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins) and how she comes to befriend and even fall in love with a creature brought to the U.S. from the jungles of South America for study. Elisa is unique in her own way, as she was found as an infant with mysterious scars on her neck. She is also mute and communicates via sign language with the mysterious creature. The film is set in 1962 Baltimore, which one would think would be directed by John Waters, but the film is in the hands of Guillermo del Toro (“Pan’s Labyrinth”), and he brings these characters to life via the world of the 1960’s.
The creature, a humanoid-amphibian, is being held at a secret government laboratory where Elisa works as a janitor along with her good friend Zelda (Octavia Spencer). In her home life she lives above a movie theater, where she pals around with her only other friend, Giles (Richard Jenkins), a struggling advertisement illustrator. Elisa’s daily routine is turned upside down when she discovers the creature (Doug Jones in amazing make-up) and begins to communicate with him by bringing him daily treats in the form of boiled eggs. While Elisa’s friendship is blossoming with her new friend, she discovers the creature is being studied, and will be euthanized in an effort to improve America’s chances in the Space Race against the Soviet Union. The villain of the film is Colonel Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon), and he is leading the effort to destroy the creature for further study, especially after the creature bites off two of his fingers. Elisa, along with her neighbor Giles, devise a plan to free the creature to prevent his death. Meanwhile, Soviet spy Dr. Robert Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhbarg) discovers Elisa’s plan, and comes to her aid as he wants the creature to remain alive as well.
After Elisa and Giles escape with the creature, Strickland begins his search in earnest for the missing “asset.” Even though she has fallen in love with the creature, Elisa knows she must eventually release him back into the ocean for his survival. What could have lead to eventual heartbreak for Elisa and her unusual love interest, eventually results in a happy ending. Even though the film is set in Baltimore, the film has a very French feel, with a soundtrack that lends itself to any film with a Paris setting.
The sets are marvelous, and you actually feel as if you have dropped into a time warp to 1962. Concerning the actors, Hawkins is nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress, so needless to say she, along with Jenkins, a nominee for Best Supporting Actor, are at the top of their game. If there were a category for Best Creature, Jones would certainly win in a landslide. The supporting cast, led by Spencer and Shannon, bring their characters to life with perfection, and you will love Spencer’s Zelda, and loathe Shannon’s Strickland. Director del Toro’s idea for the film was inspired from his childhood memories of “Creature from the Black Lagoon”, and how he wanted the romance between said creature and his love interest in that film to blossom. What can you say about a film that has been nominated for 13 Academy Awards? In the case of “The Shape of Water”, bravo!
Rated R / 4 Creatures (out of 4)