FlixChatter Review: The Shape of Water (2017)

Once in a blue moon I fell in love for a film just from the trailer. It happened with The Shape of Water sometime last Fall, but it took a few months before I finally saw it. Forbidden love stories are my thing, but this isn’t just a typical star-crossed lovers. Guillermo del Toro created a romance unlike any other… and like Elisa with the Amphibian Man, I was smitten by this film.

I LOVE the fact that I saw Sally Hawkins in two movies in the span of a month. As fellow Jane Austen fans know, she was Anne Elliot in BBC’s Persuasion, a story that’s dear to my heart. I’ve been a fan of hers since and she’s perfectly cast here. It’s a bold role and rather fearless performance I must say, quite a departure from the roles she’s done in the past. The mute Elisa is the beating heart of the film…

When he looks at me, he doesn’t see me as incomplete.
He sees me as I am.”

… well isn’t that how we all want to be seen?

It’s the stuff fairy tales are made of. Elisa was living a mundane, lonely life as a janitor at a research facility… until one day she meets someone that changes her life forever. The sea creature was more than just an ‘asset’ the way the top secret government facility sees it… he was her everything. Del Toro captured this heart-wrenching love story so beautifully… it’s emotional, thrilling, funny, suspenseful… everything one would want in a period romance, and then some. Yes it has some disturbing and violent moments that warrants its R rating. I remember how some scenes in Pan’s Labyrinth was so shocking. This one isn’t quite so brutal but it does have its dark, scary moments, yet its beauty is spectacularly breathtaking. There’s such a dreamy quality to the whole production, and there’s something so organic and lush, it’s as if you could touch and smell the universe it’s set in.

Just like any good fairy tale, there’s also a freakish monster of a villain. No, not the sea creature, the monster in this film is the one who wants to tear Elisa away from the love of her life. Michael Shannon has played a lot of menacing characters, and he’s never more revolting here as Strictland. He’s the government official tasked to deliver the ‘asset’ to a high ranking general, as the creature is deemed advantageous to the US during the 60s Space Race. He’s so devilishly vile and creepy he makes your skin crawl.

The film’s visual effects are enthralling, but so are the supporting characters. I always LOVE seeing Octavia Spencer on screen, she elevates every scene she’s in and she’s delightful as Elisa’s sympathetic friend. Richard Jenkins and Michael Stuhlbarg are two terrific character actors and they both provide memorable performances here as Elisa’s neighbor and lab scientist. I have to give props to Doug Jones who played the Amphibian Man for bringing the character to life.

I recall listening to an NPR interview of Del Toro who said he spent three years and his own money to design the creature. ‘I wasn’t designing a monster, I was designing a leading man.’ That really hit me and that’s perhaps what made this story worked. The filmmaker created a character we could relate with despite where he came from and what he looked like. It’s a message of tolerance tailored for the time we live in with the whole migrant, refugee crisis, but at the same it wasn’t on the nose or preachy. The terrific script makes the 2-hour plus running time feels like a breeze, kudos for Del Toro and his co-writer Vanessa Taylor.

Now, it’s not a perfect film. Strictland felt a bit like a caricature as there’s a lack of background about his character and Shanon’s evil-ness is borderline over-the-top at times. I also wonder some things about the creature that doesn’t seem to add up (spoiler alert – highlight to read: he’s a powerful being (even considered a god where he came from) and could heal himself & humans from even being fatally shot, yet why is he powerless when he was chained in the lab?). But none of those bothered me much, nor did it take away from the plenty of stuff that did work. I love the humorous (the one with the cat is hysterical!) and playful moments in Del Toro’s homage to classic movies. The scene of Elisa and her neighbor watched a musical and they began tapping their feet together is one of those sweet movie moments I’d watch over and over. There’s also a gorgeous musical segment that’s unabashedly sweet and romantic.

In the end, it’s films that I connect with emotionally that I love and remember the most. As a fan of classical music, I also adore Alexandre Desplat‘s ethereal score that adds so much to the film. It’s a masterpiece bear revisiting time and time again. I’m glad I saw this on the big screen before year’s end. It’s the last film I saw in 2017… what a way to end the year!

P.S. Just hours before this review’s posted, the Oscar nominations are announced, which you can check out on my friend Paul’s blog here. Keith also posted his Oscar commentary here. Thrilled to see Del Toro, Taylor, Hawkins, Jenkins and Spencer all got nominated.

Have you seen The Shape of Water? Well, I’d love to hear what YOU think!

22 thoughts on “FlixChatter Review: The Shape of Water (2017)

  1. I looooved this movie. I’m a huge fan of Doug Jones, so seeing him in such a prominent role in such a huge movie was great, and while I’d seen Sally Hawkins in a couple things, this movie made me really appreciate her. Can’t wait to see how it does at the Oscars!

    1. Hi Laura!! I’ve only seen Doug Jones in Del Toro films but yeah he’s wonderful here, he gave such humanity to his character. What do you think of that cat scene? It really surprised me, it was like ewww but also hilarious!

      I LOVE Sally Hawkins in her period dramas, she’s more versatile than meets the eye. Yeah, 13 Oscar noms! Hopefully it wins a ton!

  2. Thanks so much for the link. The nominations gave us plenty to talk about.

    I really wish “The Shape of Water” worked as well for me. To many things left me scratching my head. Most were related to del Toro’s storytelling decisions. It kinda drove me nuts. But I do think it will have a big night at the Oscars.

    1. Hi Keith, bummer you didn’t love Shape of Water as much as I did. But y’know that’s ok, we can’t always agree on everything. I was swept away by it and I thought the story didn’t bother me, though I have to admit I was expecting things to turn out better for Stuhlbarg’s character. I’m glad it got a ton of noms, I think it’s well-deserved.

  3. Del Toro’s films has been hit or miss for me, especially his last couple of films. Wasn’t a big fan of either Pacific Rim or Crimson Peak. But I think he’s more suited for films like this one, I might go check it out at a theater when I have some time this weekend. I only skimmed through your review since I’m planning to see it soon.

    1. I still haven’t seen Crimson Peak but Pac Rim is a huge guilty pleasure for me, I LOVE it! This one is much more heartfelt and emotional (my kind of thing) as well as fantastical. He humanizes the monster which Del Toro does best.

  4. This is the film that I really want to see as I’m a big fan of Guillermito (that’s what I’m calling him because it sounds adorable) who is one of my all-time favorite filmmakers. The man just understands fantasy and knows where to find the soul in the monster.

    1. Hope you see it soon Steven!

      “The man just understands fantasy and knows where to find the soul in the monster.” You hit the nail in the head there! YES he absolutely does, and it just works. You truly ‘feels’ for the characters, even the supporting characters are given proper arc, I think you’ll like this one.

  5. This sounds fantastic Ruth! When Del Toro is a bit more reserved with his stylistic choices and lets the story tell itself (like Pan’s Labyrinth), he’s at his best. This sounds like a return to the sort of form that made Pan’s Labyrinth (a film I love). Looking forward to it.

    1. I was really hoping I’d love it when I saw the trailer and I’m glad I did, Dan! You just don’t know sometimes how you’d respond to a certain film, but everything about this has a dreamy quality about it that I love.

  6. I gave it 4 stars. Love the score, the idea, the pretty world, Octavia, all that you mentioned. Yes, Shannon over the top and too little of the love story. Still, it was a charming film.

    1. Hi Cindy! Glad you’ve seen and liked it. In a way I kind of expect Shannon to be over the top, he’s fun to watch. I just wish there’s more to his character, why Strickland is so ruthless y’know, there’s not enough backstory. But overall a charming film indeed!

  7. This is one of my most-anticipated films of the year and it’s about to be released in India. Will definitely watch it on the big screen, I want to get the feeling of being under water (at least that is what I’ve heard about the cinematography).
    Great review, Ruth!

    1. Hi Shivani! Can’t you tell I’m just in love w/ this film? It’s the romantic in me. I’m actually not that romantic in real life but I love it in movies, ha! The underwater scenes are fantastic, I saw James Cameron’s name in the credits and you know that guy LOVES underwater scenes! I hope you love this as much as I did, girl!

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  9. I can’t wait to see this movie. Guillermo Del Toro is a director with a really great imagination and soul, he is great at getting the essence of a fairy tale with a dark edge.

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