A new Guillermo del Toro movie is always cause for celebration. Whether working in Spanish or English; in Mexico, Canada or the U.S; on Hollywood movies or independent features; del Toro puts his heart and soul into the work.
The Shape of Water is no exception to the rule, and has just earned Del Toro the Golden Globe for Best Director.
Written by Vanessa Taylor and Del Toro himself, the tale revolves around Elisa, a cleaner, in a high-security research lab, in the cold-war early 60s. One day an amphibian-man, from the depths of the Amazonian jungle, is brought into the lab. So begins an unusual love story.
Elisa is mute, which gives depth to her developing relationship with Amphibian Man. This is an incredible performance from Sally Hawkins, who had to learn, not only how to sign, but how to sign as the language would have been in 1962. Del Toro regular, and expert “monster” actor, Doug Jones, is heartbreaking as Amphibian Man, displaying emotion and character, solely through movement. Jones has said that Del Toro is “an old-fashioned film maker”: other than lights, none of the monster effects were done with CGI. It was all suit and levers!
Elisa lives alone, but is great friends with her neighbour, the lonely artist, Giles, who narrates the story. The wonderful, under-rated Richard Jenkins, shines as Giles, who is struggling with his own demons, and is not just a witness to Elisa’s story.
Working with Elisa in the lab is Zelda, played by the fabulous Octavia Spencer. The antagonist is lab boss Richard Strickland, who is given the requisite amount of evil by Michael Shannon.
Special kudos must go to Dan Laustsen for cinematography, Paul Austerberry for production design and Nigel Churcher for art direction.
This work, like any good monster movie, raises questions of prejudice and judgment. At its heart, this film asks us to consider what it is that makes us human
Like much of Del Toro’s work, this is a folk-tale for grown-ups. It contains traces of sci-fi, of the classic 50s monster movies, and even of Japanese tentacle porn, all wrapped up in an exquisite bundle. Every scene is beautiful in its own way; every emotion is authentic; the eroticism is pitched at exactly the right level; there is not a missed beat in the entire film.
This is a masterpiece.
The Shape of Water opens tomorrow.
Check out the official site here.