The Shape of Water
Guillermo del Toro is on Pan’s Labyrinth-level form with this whimsical love story about a mute woman (Sally Hawkins) falling for an aquatic creature
Monstrous fantasist Guillermo del Toro has conjured another fable with The Shape of Water, and like his best works, he’s brought the fantasy to our reality to watch the sparks fly.
In the case of this masterful blend of period sci-fi thriller and whimsical love story, the reality is 1960s America, looking like a blend of Mad Men and Amélie. We follow mute, wide-eyed Elisa (a heart-stealing turn by Sally Hawkins), who lives an inquisitive life as a cleaner at a high-tech government laboratory. She finds her life altered drastically, however, when she begins to fall in love with the lab's watery “asset”. Colonel Strickland (Michael Shannon – always a strong choice for a villain), the bigot in charge of the facility, doesn't take kindly to staff fraternising with his prized amphibian subject, but Elisa and her bae do find support in the form of her neighbour Giles (Richard Jenkins on typically dry form), and her wise-talking best friend Zelda (Octavia Spencer).
Considering the dense baklava of themes being layered here – a paper-thin reality with fantasy just beneath the surface; Space Race and Cold War espionage; an otherworldly romance raising questions of where we belong in the universe; institutional sexism, racism, classism and homophobia – del Toro confidently and consistently hits all the right notes, maintaining a rich, transportive, lyrical tone throughout. The result is easily the director’s most enchanting production since Pan’s Labyrinth.
Released 16 Feb 2018 by 20th Century Fox
The Shape of Water has its UK premiere, 10 Oct at London Film Festival – read our other LFF highlights here.