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The Shape of Water movie review: an absolutely irresistible fantasy romance

Sahil Bhalla | Updated on: 16 February 2018, 17:37 IST
(Shape of Water film still)

This fantasy romance is unlike anything you would have recently seen. It's a drama with some thriller elements thrown in. It's a horror movie - with monsters - and a Cold War film. It's also a fairy tale. It's a romance. It's fantasy. It's got comedy components as well. It's about love and loneliness. It's about the shunning of the main characters.

Director Guillermo Del Toro (of Pan's Labyrinth fame) has established a fantasy love story that is probably his second-best movie ever in The Shape of Water. The opening scene, where a woman is sleeping while furniture floats establish the tone of the movie. A voiceover prepares us for the 123 minutes ahead of us.

Elisa (Sally Hawkins) is a mute woman who loves her boiled eggs. She lives above a scarcely occupied cinema hall and next to her neighbour Giles (Richard Jenkins) whom she adores.

Elisa is a cleaner at a high-security facility, where Zelda (Octavia Spencer) is her best friend and translates her sign language into spoken words. The setting is in the midst of the Cold War era where USA and Russia are at loggerheads over each other.

There's Eliza who can't speak. Then there's Giles who struggles to live as an old gay man. Then Zelda who is an African American. And the creature from the Amazon worshipped only in his native land.

A high-value asset is brought into the facility and kept securely in a tank. Elisa and Zelda are given special clearance to enter the room and mop it up. The amphibious half man-half creature (Doug Jones) comes captured from the Amazon. It's almost love at first sight for Elisa. They develop, what one would call, an unexpected love. Dr Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg) is tasked with evaluating this creature and providing feedback.

There is a hurdle in their path though. Strickland (Michael Shannon), the man in charge of security, is far from supportive of the creature. There is also a more than just a hint of racism and sexism in his character.

Performances & characters

There is a pair of scenes, in which we get to know the two main characters, as stark opposites. While we know that Elisa likes to masturbate in the bath, regulated by an egg timer, there is a different kind of charm when she has sex with the creature. We don't see the act itself, and as implausible as it sounds, we get to know just how lovely a woman and creature can get along. On the other hand, there is the scene in which Strickland has sex with his wife. It's harsh, unromantic, and kinda forceful.

Sally Hawkins produces her best performance to date. It's an Oscar-worthy performance. She'll finally be getting her dues. Hawkins manages to be the loudest person in the movie despite her being a mute. Jenkins is a nice sidekick, shining bright with his own brand of humour. Strickland's character, the villain, goes as far to show us what kind of people dominated the world during the Cold War. Straight white males.

Should you watch it?

Ultimately, this movie goes to show that the best way to express yourself isn't always with words. Love and fear and all the in between can be displayed without words.

In the end, Guillermo Del Toro has created this world through many arresting visuals, costumes and locations.

As a romantic movie and as a sort of thriller, this movie works. Try to derive some meaning, and there just isn't much, unfortunately. That's the only downside. Still, with this movie, Guillermo Del Toro will probably be winning the Best Director Oscar and the movie itself might just be bringing home the Best Picture crown. It's a movie worthy of praise. And a movie that pushes the boundaries.

It's a confluence of many different genres, and many different ideas, that in the end, work well together.

Rating: 3.5/5

First published: 16 February 2018, 17:37 IST
Sahil Bhalla @IMSahilBhalla

Sahil is a correspondent at Catch. A gadget freak, he loves offering free tech support to family and friends. He studied at Sarah Lawrence College, New York and worked previously for Scroll. He selectively boycotts fast food chains, worries about Arsenal, and travels whenever and wherever he can. Sahil is an unapologetic foodie and a film aficionado.