Rating: * * * * *
Guillermo Del Toro’s latest offering is his finest work to date. The Shape of Water is a rare blend of horror, romance and comedy that feels like a B-Movie from a bygone era.
This monster fantasy is beautifully performed by a gifted ensemble cast, but none more so than Sally Hawkins, who toys with our emotions as Elisa Esposito, a lonesome, mousy, mute woman at odds with a world where she has no voice.
When she falls for an equally tortured soul, who happens to be a scaly Amazonian merman that is chained up in the laboratory where she works, you can guess that the course of true love is unlikely to run smoothly.
Elisa spends time with the creature, feeds it boiled eggs and plays it her favourite vinyls. She soon falls in love, dancing and swooning just like the movie stars she adores. When the creature’s future is threatened Elisa must find a way for to escape the laboratory or risk losing her scaled sweetheart.
In charge of the Baltimore Military Facility is Michael Shannon’s Strickland, a brutal government mercenary who goads and tortures the creature with an electric cattle prod. Shannon’s menacing performance is the perfect counter-balance to the monster romance as he charges around the corridors in a murderous rage. You soon find out that the creature is an ‘asset’ wanted by the Americans and Russians to gain an advantage in the space race.
Del Toro doesn’t shy away from all aspects of a loving relationship. Although he never explicitly depicts interspecies sex, it is part and parcel of Elisa’s blossoming relationship and she wastes no time in filling up the bathroom with water before slipping out of her bathrobe. Del Toro makes these scenes so joyous and intimate that you hardly question the logistics.
Some of the final underwater scenes between Elisa and the creature are simply breathtaking. Del Toro delicately paints his love story piece by piece in an aqua marine hue, turning deeper and darker as the inevitable tragedy draws closer. Sally Hawkins brings an endearing fragility to her quirky character without using a single word. Her performance isn’t the bold feminist statement the current landscape demands, but it is quiet, subtle and mesmerising and she deserves all the awards attention she receives. This film is Del Toro’s ultimate fairy tale ode to outsiders and misfits, one that lingers in the memory days after watching it.
The Shape of Water is in UK Cinemas nationwide from the 16th of February 2018