Guillermo del Toro is a director who adores monsters. From Pan's Labyrinth to Hellboy, Del Toro has used monsters to tell us very human stories. The Shape of Water is a love story, a love between Elisa (Sally Hawkins) and a strange amphibious creature captured by the American government. There is however much more that lies beneath the surface of this film where love is the key and that monsters may look more like, us than any creature from the depths of the imagination.
From it's beautiful fairytale opening The Shape of Water had me in its grasp. Elisa is referred to as a princess, a princess who falls in love with a monster, this is Beauty and the Beast set in a science lab with the Creature from the Black Lagoon as the object of affection. Elisa has love to give, clearly indicated from the films first moments where she visits her neighbour Giles (Richard Jenkins) to bring him food, she cares deeply for her friends and they for her. None more so than Zelda (Octavia Spencer) who talks all day to Elsia at her day job cleaning a government science facility.
When they are asked to clean a closed off lab space the pair encounter the latest government experiment, an amphibious creature a mer-man who Elisa is instantly enraptured by. She has never encountered anything like this creature and the pair begin to strike up a relationship and begin to fall in love. Trapped and imprisoned the creature finds Elisa just as enticing as she feeds him, teaches him sign language and plays gramophone records as they picnic together in secret.
While the enchanting love story takes place there is another monster lurking in the background. Michael Shannon's psychotic government agent Strickland, determined to protect the 'asset' at all costs despite his obvious disdain for the creature, which often plays out violently. Shannon is always at his best when depicting a character that is a little unhinged and this is no exception. He has menace and sinister intentions despite his idyllic life in the suburbs.
There is much to love about the Shape of Water. The performances of Hawkins and Shannon stand out as two of the best of the year so far and the world del Toro creates is at points breathtaking in its beauty. While there were moments within the film that felt a little out of step tonally with the rest, overall it would be difficult not to find yourself swept away in the dreamscape of The Shape of Water.
This is a film that declares the outcasts to be worthy of our love and affection and also warns us of the normality of the monsters who walk among us. It may not win all thirteen of the Oscars it is nominated for but I fully expect the awards to flood in regardless.
The Shape of Water is classified as a 15 certificate by the BBFC
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Running time: 123 mins