THE SHAPE OF WATER (2017)

“The Shape of Water” is the new film by Guillermo Del Toro, the man who brought us films like Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy, Pacific Rim and the average but visually stunning Crimson Peak. “The Shape of Water” chronicles the story of Elisa (Sally Hawkins), a mute housekeeper at a top secret US research facility in the 1960s who has a chance encounter with an amphibian captured and experimented upon by the scientists of the facility led by Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon). As she forms an uncanny bond with the creature she realizes that she might be the only hope the creature has to survive a planned vivisection.

Am I the only one who is thinking that the Amphibian Man here has an uncanny resemblance to Abe Sapien, the amphibian from “Hellboy?”  As a matter of fact, both the characters are played by the same actor, Doug Jones. Be it the overall character design and their respective love for eggs or even the manner in which they blink for that matter, both the characters exude very familiar vibes. The only major difference is that The Amphibian Man here is mute while that in Hellboy was an articulate speaker. Hell! They are even kept in similar chambers. While this fact in no way takes anything away from the film, for someone like me, who has practically grown up on films like Hellboy, it was unquestionably distracting.

Present also are some of Del Toro’s famous touches from his films like Pan’s Labyrinth. The manner in which a major character gets shot in the face, the manner in which the primary antagonist gets violently injured and carries a wound all through the movie, the manner in which the protagonist meets a violent end and yet the films ends on a dreamy note for her are all too familiar for anyone who has seen Del Toro’s previous films. To me, it felt like an assemblage of some of the best visually conjured sequences from past Del Toro films that are put in a different story.

Yes! The story doesn’t have much of a similarity to any of Del Toro’s previous films except maybe Pan’s Labyrinth which relates the story of a fairy princess trapped in a human body who has to endure a lot before she can reach her true heaven. This film has a similar vibe to it considering the fact that Elisa too is a misfit who finds her true love and connect in a whole new and different world. I loved the manner in which Del Toro introduced and dealt with the scars on Elisa’s neck that in the end prove to be a key element referring to her true calling and pointing to the actual world that she belongs to.

The Shape of Water is an extremely beautiful and gorgeous looking film that is warm and lush in its presentation of the story. It is so colorful and vividly envisioned that at many junctures I felt as If I could touch the various elements depicted in the film. The old aesthetics, the color palate, and the accompanying subtleties are all so well realized that I couldn’t help but fall in love with the visuals of this film. It must also be noted that it is realized as a fantasy story and at many junctures, that very element of the treatment comes to the fore. If you want to understand what I mean, all you have to do is look at the manner in which the film begins and the very last sequence underwater. Both of these sequences are dreamy and possibly the most haunting of all the sequences in the film.

This is also a film that is highly intriguing. The plot starts rolling within the first few minutes and never for once loses steam. The relation between the Amphibian and Elisa is believably built and remains effective all throughout the film which adds to the tension and intrigue which is dependent mostly on the question of whether or not the creature will be saved and Elisa’s love will be realized or not. A lot of it has to do with the reason of how Elisa looks at the Amphibian. In a poignant scene, she reveals what is it about the beast that captures her imagination and why is it that she would do anything to save him.

Sally Hawkins plays Elisa with an indomitable charm. As the film progresses she gradually grows more and more confident about herself and her indomitable desire to save the creature. The same is revealed in a scene when she encounters Michael Shannon’s Strickland with a quirky verbal abuse. When Shannon starts yelling at her, she never for a second loses her composure and keeps looking at him with a clinical calm. This is one scene that tells a lot about the change in the thought process of the girl with time and the creature’s company. Sally Hawkins truly deserved an Oscar nomination for this role and she got it. I, not for a second, doubted the fact that she was mute and that in itself is the biggest triumph of her essay.

Michael Shannon is one of my favorite Hollywood actors of recent times. I thoroughly enjoyed his act here. Two scenes of his will stand out. The first scene between him and two housekeepers where we are basically introduced to his character and a scene towards the end of the film when he has a conversation with a General Hoyt explaining to him why a fall off on his part should be tolerated and the General tells him otherwise. These two scenes are worth enough to see the whole film for. There is such a simmering drama underneath the basic surface of these two scenes that one can actually be in awe of it. The drama would not be what it is had it not have the kind the act that Shannon puts in.

Octavia Spencer is delightful as ever. She plays the friend and accomplice-in-crime of Elisa and she plays it with such heart that it is impossible not to love her. Richard Jenkins has an important role as a friend/landlord of Elisa. He is gay and his character plays out like a social commentary on what we deem right and be-fitting and what not. He is the perfect foil that shows us the limits of our acceptability and brings to the fore the reasons that would help us to understand why we will never be able to accept either Elisa or The Amphibian Man for what they are and why they are misfits in a world enamored by itself and so blinded that it fails to understand anything that is even a whisker left to what is normal by their standards.

The music of “The Shape of Water” both the technical aspects of it as well as the score has been nominated for Oscars and I am not surprised. The sound mixing, the sound editing, and the charm of the music alone is enough to give you goosebumps. It has a very operatic feel to it that is maintained all through the runtime. I couldn’t help but be devoured by it. The film starts with a musical score that would go on to haunt you as the film progresses. I hardly speak of the musical aspects of a film as I believe I have the least idea about this aspect of a film but ignoring it here would be blasphemous.

“The Shape of Water” is an intriguing and affecting fantasy that is as beautiful as it is captivating. Marked by brilliant performances, terrific visuals, and an uncanny feel, this is a film that is endlessly entertaining and watchable. My only issue with it was the repetitive creature design and its common traits with some other Del Toro films but that’s hardly reason enough to not enjoy this film. One can watch this for the visuals alone. “The Shape of Water” is a must watch.

Rating : 4/5 (4 out of 5 Stars)

 

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