The Mexican Guillermo del Toro already has a well-established career making feature films that show his fascination with the fantastic genre. The charm of the director's films comes from his refined aesthetics and his limitless imagination, especially when it comes to the design of his monsters, which always attract attention. Well, since Pan's Labyrinth a del Toro film is as well spoken as his new work, The Shape of Water who won no more than thirteen Oscar nominations and is one of the favorites to win the Best Film and Director awards. But does the feature deserve all these accolades? Some, although the balance is positive, it shows many mistakes.
The film takes place in the 1950s, at the height of the Cold War. The protagonist is Elisa (Sally Hawkins) a seedling that works as a cleaner in a US government laboratory. Lonely because of her condition, Elisa finds herself more complete with the presence of two people: her neighbor, the artist Giles (Richard Jenkins) that presents you with several musicals of the time; and the co-worker, Silvia (Octavia Spencer), whose strong personality inspires Elisa. One day, a new team arrives at the laboratory, led by the despicable Strickland (Michael Shannon) that carries a strange creature, that looks like a mixture of man and amphibian (Doug Jones). Elisa sees in the creature the same loneliness that she has felt all her life, while he sees in the girl a human who was not afraid or disgusted to see him. And both will discover a very strong love.
Well, the first thing that the synopsis makes clear: the feature is a fable. For this reason, some characters (such as Strickland) are cartoonish and one-dimensional and the tone of the film becomes lighter at times, thanks to the competent soundtrack. Alexandre Desplat. Too bad the script made by del Toro and Vanessa Taylor it shows the most shifting point of the film. As much as the main arc is well resolved, the feature suffers from an excess of subplots, which make no difference to the narrative and end up leaving the film as long as it should. Another problem is in the dialogues, which are sometimes very subtle and sometimes horrifying, to the point of being laughable. And it is amazing how subtle the film is sometimes and at other times it is not content to just be obvious, as it repeats the same message at least three times to see if the viewer understood it. So it shows the weakest point of The Shape of Water.
In terms of execution, he shows himself to be very competent because he is visually the most beautiful film by the director and that is no small feat. The art direction is wonderful, not only for the recreation of the time, but for details of the scenarios like the laboratory that resemble those of the sci-fi films of the 50s or even the look of the creature that at the same time is frightening, but at the same time fascinating, even though it resembles another creature that appeared in other del Toro films: the franchise's Abe Sapien Hellboy, which was also played by the mimic Doug Jones. In fact, it is good to highlight once again the makeup team that works with the director, who does an incredible job on the creature using practical effects, which allows us to see the way his eyes blink and the details like the scales on his body, a incredible job. Another factor that helps to be this visual spectacle, is the beautiful photograph of Dan Laustsen which in addition to creating subtle movements with the camera, uses the shadows that make the long gloomy when needed and the rich use of colors, especially blue and navy green, which are used intelligently (the majority of the cast not surprisingly) has clear eyes) and the final result with the color palette leaves The Shape of Water visually very pleasant.
The performances prove to be the most consistent in the director's career, which have always sounded a little too theatrical in his previous films. Sally Hawkins has a difficult task: she is a silent protagonist, who is in almost every scene in the film. But her composition for Elisa is very careful and charismatic. Hawkins shows an excellent presence of screen, charisma and an expressive look that makes the viewer feel some affection with the dreamer Elisa. The genius Michael Shannon, on the other hand, plays a villain who follows all the characteristics of the manual: sexist, prejudiced, violent, abusive, merciless and cruel. But even with that (as said, it is a fable), Shannon makes Strickland threatening from beginning to end. Some tics given by the character make us afraid of his actions, such as the mania he has to suck a bullet and whenever he gets more aggressive, he chews the bullet in a way that sounds threatening. It is a magnificent performance, which should have been more talked about in the award season. The great Richard Jenkins plays the role of a person as lonely as Elisa, but who is more bitter with reality than the girl. But he manages to pass a generosity in a credible way in his role, showing how Jenkins is a talented actor. Michael Sthulbarg also shows himself very well playing the most ambiguous character in the feature, which he manages to show with a cold, amazement and fascination look. Octavia Spencer plays the same role again: the submissive who shows a strong personality to respond when necessary to her bosses. It's not a bad job, but it looks like Spencer has entered the type casting.
In terms of direction, del Toro's best work is shown. In addition to the maturity of the performances and the visual, he realizes how much the director is more in control of the cinematographic language. This is most evident in the scenes in which it really shows the love of Elisa and the creature, using all the elements to create sensations in a lyrical way. The feature is beautiful in these scenes, for the poetry shown on screen and for the director to know how to work with the feeling, in addition to being very well filmed, with very elegant picture compositions. Even the graphic scenes of violence and sex work, to show the terror of reality against the lightness of the dream. It is a pity that this is lost amid the obviousness that has already been mentioned in the script, but as a direction we see the best work in the director's career.
Anyway, The Shape of Water it is a film of several merits. It is well directed, has great performances and is visually impeccable, but unfortunately he is compromised due to a script that in the end is irregular. It is not a masterpiece as has been said, but far from being a bad film, it shows the talent of Guillermo del Toro and the cohesion of his work.