Guillermo del Toro’s latest cinematic creation probably looks a little strange – and maybe a tiny bit familiar.
The idea apparently came from del Toro’s long-held desire to tell a story – a love story! – from an atypical point of view: through the eyes of a creature inspired by the one at the center of 1954’s “… Black Lagoon” flick.
And with a storyline setting idea from a writer friend, del Toro had the necessary basis for his fable and in 2011 started picking at a script that six years later would make one hell of a splash on the big screen.
In “The Shape of Water,” the opening narration – along with soft, purposeful images – sets up “… the princess without voice… a tale of love and loss… and the monster who tried to destroy it all.”
And what unfolds is the story of Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins, AMAZING!), a mute cleaning woman at Occam Aerospace, a 1960’s-era research facility – and the unlikely connection she forms with “the most sensitive asset ever to be housed in this facility.”
But because this being (frequent del Toro collaborator Doug Jones, under layers of latex and make up) is such a mystery, it’s also a target – both for research, headed by Dr. Robert Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg), and for less-than-favorable treatment from Colonel Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon, cranking the dial to asshole-level creepy) and his “Alabama howdy-do.”
And because this being is different, it’s construed as a threat. But Elisa will stop at nothing to keep her new friend from harm.
Everything here is detailed and authentic to the time period with regard to clothing styles and automobiles and gender roles and advertisements – and mindset, with the obvious cultural and social biases.
The characters – all of them – are incredible.
While Elisa has no voice her heart speaks volumes, and it’s evident in her expressions and her movements. And that smile. Her demeanor is simple and delicate and genuine. She’s easily the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen, and you can’t help but love her.
Her friends are few but oh-so-wonderful. There’s Elisa’s eccentric and hilarious neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins), who calls her his “best friend” and offers some of the most sage and unfiltered wisdom. I’m still chuckling.
And there’s Zelda (the always impressive Octavia Spencer), Elisa’s smart-alecky work pal who seems to be looking out for and sort of protecting her voiceless friend.
The camera work – all of it – is breathtaking. The low angles and tracking shots and constant glides and slow zooms cultivate nonstop movement that’s unique and captivating and altogether hypnotic. It’s an absolute treat for the eyes.
The narrative features constant reminders of time, because it’s such a crucial element to the story.
Color also plays a huge role; pay attention to the colors and what they represent – and how changes in the lives of some of these characters cause subtle adjustments to the hues and saturation with which we’ve become familiar.
What del Toro has created with “The Shape of Water” is one bizarre, artistic, and beautiful fairy tale.
It’s an elegantly unusual love story that floats away as poetically as it began: “Unable to perceive the shape of you, I find you all around me. Your presence fills my eyes with your love. It humbles my heart, for you are everywhere.”