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The Shape of Water

As the end credits began to roll at the end of Guillermo del Toro’s latest film THE SHAPE OF WATER, I was filled with a sense of wonder.Though I have seen thousands of on screen romances over the years, I had never seen anything quite like this. In the gifted hands of the visionary director (and screenwriter/producer), the story of a mute woman falling in love with an amphibious humanoid is tender, sweet, and impossibly believable.

Elisa (Sally Hawkins) has been unable to speak since childhood. She bears scars on her neck with no recollection how they got there, and relies on sign language to communicate. She lives an isolated existence above a movie theater, spending her time in her apartment, occasionally sharing company with her neighbor Giles (Academy Award nominee Richard Jenkins) and going to work each day at a secretive government facility. It is 1962, and the threat of a soviet invasion is imminent. Elisa along with her friend and co-worker Zelda (Academy Award nominee Octavia Spencer) go virtually unnoticed throughout the day, cleaning up the facility where mysterious studies and experiments are taking place.

Special Agent Richard Strickland (the consistently and delightfully unsettling Michael Shannon) arrives at the facility with a creature that he had discovered in South America. The being was worshipped as a god, and it is Strickland’s hope to learn everything about it, by any means necessary, in hopes of utilizing it as a weapon against the Soviets. After extracting all of the information that he can while it is alive, he plans on dissecting it, and exposing all of the hidden secrets he possesses.   

After catching a brief glimpse of the creature upon his arrival, Elisa is instantly intrigued. Putting her health and employment at risk, she takes advantage of the empty lab and attempts to make contact. She offers an egg to the creature, and the two share a brief exchange. This pattern continues as the days progress, and the two forge an unlikely bond. When Elisa discovers that Strickland intends to kill and cut open her newfound companion, she forges a dangerous plan in hopes of being his savior.

In the hands of lesser talents, THE SHAPE OF WATER could have been a disaster. It is difficult to convince a mainstream audience that the union of a human and a sea-monster is not only acceptable, but somehow endearing and believable. The film was obviously a labor of love for del Toro, who was instrumental in virtually every aspect of the creative process. He earned a Best Direct Golden Globe, and looks to be one of the favorites to win the Academy Award. Many fans know that this type of recognition is long overdue, and it’s rewarding to see a unique and daring mind such as his being showered with accolades for such an unconventional tale. His characters are complex, the story is fascinating, and the visuals are stunning. In addition, he was able to illicit dynamic performances from the impeccable cast. While Jenkins, Spencer, and Shannon were imperative to the success of the production, and each brought a depth to their character that was instrumental in building the drama within the story, it is Hawkins who tackled the most demanding task of all. Much like a silent star of old, she was forced to rely on her expressions, body language, and charm to mold Elisa into an unlikely heroine. Despite her inability to speak, she is a strong and determined woman who not only stands up for her convictions, but willing to risk her life for the right cause and ideals. She was a commanding presence on the screen, and despite her unconventional choice of a partner, you long for her find the love she richly deserves.

The Shape of  Water


RUN TIME: 2h 3min  GENRE: Adventure, Sci-Fi

STARRING: Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, and Octavia Spencer

DIRECTOR/WRITER: Guillermo del Toro


A special thanks goes to Regal Cinemas at Destiny USA for allowing me to attend this month’s film.

Brian Miller
Film Critic
Based out of Central New York, Brian Miller is a film critic who works in television, radio, and print. Providing passionate and energetic takes on every movie he sees, he looks for the best in a movie, not the worst.