Some of my movie reviews are written about films I’ve been dying to see, and then there are those that, based on their trailers, I’m ambivalent or downright reticent about watching. That was the case with The Shape of Water, directed by Guillermo del Toro. Although I adored Sally Hawkins’ performance in Maudie, I thought The Shape of Water, in which she stars as a mute who works as a late-night custodian in a research center that houses a top secret amphibious, man-like creature, looked weird more so than appealing.
Set in Baltimore in 1962, Hawkins’ character Elisa Esposito basically has only two friends in the whole world – her neighbor Giles, played by Richard Jenkins, and her co-worker Zelda, portrayed by Octavia Spencer. Although Giles and Zelda prove to be loyal companions, her quiet existence, shaped by routine, is relatively lonely for she has no true love.
When Michael Shannon’s character Richard Strickland arrives at the research center with an exotic creature from the depths of the Amazon, Elisa’s simple existence grows more complex. As she forges a relationship with the creature, Elisa slowly learns that the two of them are more similar than it would appear. Sharing a love of hard-boiled eggs and music, the duo understand one another the way only soulmates can.
Each evening as she goes in to clean the space where the amphibian is housed, Elisa must carefully conceal that she’s not just there to mop. Strickland, who’s specifically in charge of security regarding the creature, has trust issues, not only mistrusting the creature, but becoming suspicious of Elisa, who beguiles him.
This movie was definitely like no other movie I have ever seen. The story line was so unique, albeit peculiar and unexpected. Sally Hawkins’ wordless performance was nothing short of spectacular. Her wide eyes, so expressive, delivered more emotion than any dialogue ever could. Octavia Spencer’s character Zelda offered humor, and even though her character reminded me a bit of her role as Minny Jackson in The Help, listening to her rambling on and on as Elisa dutifully listened, made me smile. (She’s the best friend everyone should have for sure!) Richard Jenkins’ character Giles pulled on my heartstrings for he harbored hope despite that the cards seemed stacked against him in multiple ways.
It was Michael Shannon’s performance that left me a bit perplexed. On the one hand, he absolutely nailed it playing a man whose ego unnerved those in his charge, but, on the other hand, I felt he was reprising his character Nelson Van Alden from the TV series Boardwalk Empire. Like Van Alden, the character Strickland is a religious zealot who doesn’t practice what he preaches.
With an eccentric plot and fabulous cast, it’s no wonder that The Shape of Water is the talk of Hollywood. My one beef is that some of the scenes made me squirm in my seat a little, either because they felt like too much of a personal invasion of the characters’ private lives or they were just plain gruesome. My friend Dani saw the movie with me, and I noted that she covered her eyes on more than one occasion as well. (In case you were wondering about the tag line to my review, there’s your teaser!)
After the movie, Dani shared, “It wasn’t what I expected because I had heard really good things about it, but it did make me laugh, even at inappropriate times. It was really intense at times, and I cringed and jumped. Overall though, it was really strange, and hard for me to wrap my head around. It was good, but I felt like I kept thinking, ‘What the heck?’ It was odd.”
I have to say that I agree with Dani. Part of me liked it. Part of me didn’t. Part of me thought it was genius. Part of me didn’t. What I can say with a great deal of confidence is that you’ll never see another movie like it. The soundtrack added to the movie’s charm and eccentricity, and I’m sure I’ll be thinking about The Shape of Water for quite a while, wondering about the symbolism of the color green seen throughout the film. Anyone have Director Guillermo del Toro’s phone number? I have a lot of questions for him!
Movie times: click here
Genre: Adventure, Drama, Fantasy
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Actors: Sally Hawkins, Octavia Spencer, Michael Shannon
Running Time: 2 hours 3 minutes
Rating: Rated R for sexual content, graphic nudity, violence and language