Ever wondered how “The Creature of the Black Lagoon” would have ended if the gill man got the girl? Acclaimed director Guillermo del Toro answers that question with his wet and wild take on the classic beauty and the beast love story, “The Shape of Water.” This stunning picture stars Sally Hawkins, Doug Jones, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, and Octavia Spencer.
Set in the 1960s, the film tells the story of Elisa Esposito (Hawkins), a mute janitor who works the graveyards shift at a government research facility. Elisa finds her hum drum life taking an exciting turn when she and her co-worker/confidant, Zelda (Spencer), discover the facility’s newest top-secret “asset”: a humanoid aquatic creature (Jones). Elisa quickly forms a bond with the fish-man by teaching it t communicate through sign language. But the creature’s arrival brings with it the beast’s cruel captor (Shannon). With the help of her friends, Elisa must find the strength she needs to save the creature she’s come to love.
Bathed in shade upon shade of green, the cinematography is utterly marvelous. Each stunningly crafted scene is mesmerizing and will have audiences feeling as weightless and buoyant as if they were adrift upon the sea themselves.
The score is both haunting and enchanting, featuring several lilting melodies composed by Alexndre Dusplat and several classics by The Glenn Miller Orchestra, Carmen Miranda, Andy Williams, and more. One particular bright spot of the film involves Renèe Fleming’s moving ballad “You’ll Never Know,” which plays out as a black and white Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dance sequence between Elisa and the creature.
The on-screen chemistry between Hawkins and Jones is phenomenal, but the supporting cast steals the show. Richard Jenkins shines as Elisa’s closest friend Giles, a closeted homosexual struggling to find his purpose who finds himself both touched and rejuvenated by the relationship between Elisa and the creature. Octavia Spencer charms audiences as Elisa’s brusque but compassionate co-worker, Zelda. But one of the most powerful performances of the film is delivered by Michael Shannon as the sadistic and villainous, Richard Strickland. His vulgar tongue and unrelentingly cruel actions make him more monstrous than the aquatic being he pursues.
“The Shape of Water” is a breathtaking (pun definitely intended) fairytale for the modern age with powerful messages about, self-worth, courage, and love. For Elisa, the creature sees her for all that she is instead of what she lacks. In return, she sees past its monstrous appearance and teaches it to love like a man. The film’s most important lesson is echoed in Elisa’s unforgettable signed words: “If we do nothing, neither are we.”
The film will soon be leaving theaters as quickly as the tide recedes from the shore, so don’t miss your chance to see this cinematic marvel. “The Shape of Water” gets five out of five.