THE SHAPE OF WATER – Review *****

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This Valentine’s Day, take your better half to the cinema to watch the extremely romantic story of a mute woman who has sexual intercourse with a fish. You know you want to. Nominated for 13 Oscars (including Best Picture and Best Director), Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water deserves all the hype and glory, because yes, no sarcasm or irony, it is probably the best love story of 2018.

US of A, 1962. Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins) lives in a tiny flat above a beautiful cinema. Mute since birth, she lives a life of relative loneliness, hanging out with closeted gay neighbour Giles (Richard Jenkins) and work friend Zelda (Octavia Spencer), training her tap-dancing and masturbating in the bath. When a strange amphibious specimen arrives at the secret research facility where she works as a cleaner, she is intrigued, and soon establishes a curious and politically incorrect relation with the Creature.

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Only del Toro would make zoophilia look this stunning. With the help of Danish cinematographer Dan Laustsen (Silent Hill), The Shape of Water has something of Amelie meets The Creature of the Black Lagoon. The water greens ever present, in their mossy, warmish qualities, with great choreographed sequences (where the infamous sex scene is definitely number one, closely followed by – spoiler alert – the musical sequence), are made cosier and fairy tale-ish by the involving soundtrack by Alexandre Desplat (harps and whistling and piano and exotic flutes). The Shape of Water is a warm blanket with a side of hot chocolate and marshmallows for the senses. If it was just that, it would already be a great film. But del Toro goes further.

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Though you may say the Mexican filmmaker’s style is not for all sensibilities, this may well be one of his most accessible films. Still a period film (very much like Pan’s Labyrinth), and still expressing his love of monsters (the physical, not the psychological kind), The Shape of Water’s Cold War background is discreet, ad-like – Cadillacs, housewives, hairstyles, war posters, music -all full of a grim and decay that kind of recalls the Fallout gaming franchise. The choice of having a mute protagonist (leaving all the dialogue to a black woman and a gay man – take that representation!) was a stroke of genius. Both Elisa and Amphibian Man (that’s how he comes up in the credits, apparently) communicate through looks, gestures, music and boiled eggs. They both don’t belong in that world, and that is what attracts them to each other. Sally Hawkins has the performance of a lifetime (she is having sex with a fish and we don’t find it disgusting – If that isn’t supreme acting I don’t know what it is). Richard Jenkins and Octavia Spencer are their usual brilliant selves, Doug Jones (the Creature on most del Toro’s films) manages to pull the humanistic side of an animal/god, Michael Stuhlbarg (here playing Dr. Robert Hoffstetler) is the “enemy” with a heart and Michael Shannon (Richard Strickland) is a little bit too Disney Villain, but we’ll forgive it, because this is a fairy tale after all, and what kind of enchanted tale doesn’t have a monstrous man with an electric cane and decaying fingers.

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The little details – Elisa’s neck scars, the monster’s appetite for pets, the most successful heist of all time, hell, even the ending – are just too perfect. The Shape of Water will get plenty of awards (most technical categories, soundtrack we hope, and maybe Best Director), and make loads of people “accidentally” flood their flats. We’re still to know what PETA thinks of it though…

The Shape of Water will be released in the UK on 14th February 2018.

Sara is originally from Coimbra, Portugal, where she studied Film Studies before moving to London to enrol in film school. Having made her first short film about her neighbour's chickens when she was 9 (a dystopian sci-fi, still her favourite genre), she is now a London-based film director and editor, and also a writer for the Portuguese Take Magazine. She is a huge fan of Lars Von Trier, Krysztof Kiéslowski, and David Lean.