Thursday 8 February 2018

The Shape Of Water - Guillermo Del Toro

The Shape Of Water - Guillermo Del Toro

So many of this year's Oscar nominated films reflect different aspects of the zeitgeist: feminism, misogyny, diversity, racism, homosexuality. But only The Shape Of Water encompasses them all so wonderfully.

Not to say this is a box ticking exercise. The film is many things, but above all it's an adorable fantasy about a mute and her amphibian man-fish lover - the sort of strange, beguiling film that could only come from the mind of Guillermo Del Toro.

Its unlikely heroine is Elisa (Sally Hawkins), who works as a janitor in a secret facility in Cold War Baltimore. She is mute, but her black co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer) is simultaneously her interpreter. Together with Elisa's homosexual, closeted neighbour Giles (Richard Jenkins), they form a sort of outsider rebellion, plotting to free the amphibian from experimentation and murder at the hands of The Straight White Man (Strickland - Michael Shannon).

Elisa is a likeable, caring protagonist who seems to attract difference. It's no surprise that she would fall for an amphibian creature - in him she finds the love and acceptance she deserves but never found. In this film the monstrous is compassionate and the human is monstrous. Shannon's Strickland is the embodiment of toxic masculinity: cold, misogynistic and corrupt.

While it's easy to read The Shape Of Water as a film championing difference, it works too as fantastical whimsy. There are shades of Amelie with its quirky lead, light jazz score and European sensibility, but it's equally a spy film, a comedy, a horror-romance. Spencer and Jenkins bring plenty of modern amusement to the film - two characters tragically ahead of their time - but there are nods too to classic Hollywood musicals and monster films. Despite its 1960s setting, there's a timeless cinematic quality to the film, which has no doubt aided its status as Oscar darling.

For all its subtle politics, however, the film is full of heart. Though at times it is a little too bizarre and its ending does err on saccharine, it is testament to the acting and the film's craft that such an odd story could be so genuinely moving. It is also typically Del Toro: a delicate amalgam of the strange, the frightening and the beautiful.


Watch: The Shape Of Water is out February 14th.