A major Oscar contender Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water is an enjoyable fairytale that could even convince people who are not fans of the monster genre.
In the 1960’s, a mute janitor, working at a secret military lab, becomes involved with an amphibian man kept prisoner by the authorities for research purpose.
By doing a pastiche of 50’s/60’s sci-fi creature films del Toro echoes the paranoia of our own era. The Shape of Water tackles issues of communication (it is no hazard, screenplay-wise, if the character establishing a communication with the creature is a mute ), issues on gender and about the fear of anything that is an alien. The films del Toro pays homage to (we think, for example, of the Creature of the Black Lagoon), beside being of entertainment value, where also, at the time, an answer to the censorship during McCarthysm. The director provides his own entertaining answer to Trumpism.
We have, of course, to be a good sport and swallow the whole screenplay (the mute girl gets away a bit easily with a lot of things), but the ensemble cast, including four Oscar nominees, Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Octavia Spencer, deliver favorable performances. While Shannon (as the bad guy) and Spencer provide a good laugh, Hawkins and Jenkins are often moving as it is also the case regarding Doug Jones surprisingly emotional performance as the creature, even under the make-up.
The Shape of Water has a strong European flavor. The color palette share similarities with Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Amelie (2002). Is it because the main creative minds were from the old continent? Probably. French composer Alexandre Desplat, on scoring assignment, and Danish Cinematographer Dan Lausten provide Oscar consideration material. Lets also note it is made with US and Canadian funding, under a restrain budget (for this kind of film) of 20 millions, that makes it even more sympathetic. Some directors do less with 200 million.