The Shape of Water
The Shape of Water is a beautiful cinematic endeavor that utilizes color to create a surreal story set in the 1960s. Filled with hazy greens, blues, and yellows, any still image from this film could look like its own work of art. Sally Hawkins stars as Elisa Esposito, a mute woman who works the overnight shift as a janitor at a classified research facility. Her two closest friends are Giles (Richard Jenkins) and Zelda (Octavia Spencer). Giles is her next door neighbor and an advertising artist struggling to stay in an industry that’s moving towards photography rather than hand-painted ads. Zelda (Octavia Spencer) has worked alongside Elisa for years, often acting as her voice, and always has a story to share - many of them involving her husband.
Doug Jones plays the nameless amphibian man who resembles Abe Sapien from Hellboy (which Jones also played) but, contrary to some beliefs, this movie is not about Abe Sapien. The amphibian man is much like an animal caught in the wild - he’s untrusting, dangerous, and reactive. All these qualities make sense when you’re in captivity - especially when you have captors like Strickland (Michael Shannon) who are prone to using violence to get the behavior and/or answers they’re looking for. During the midst of the Cold War he’s a potential weapon but they’re unsure whether he needs to be utilized or destroyed.
Elisa is immediately drawn to this creature. She brings in a record player from home and they eat lunch together (she brings him hardboiled eggs) while the music fills the cold, dark, and damp space. As their relationship grows Elisa begins to wear red. At first it’s small details like a red headband or a pair of red shoes until the end of the film where she’s wearing a full red coat.
The Shape of Water is art in motion but the story itself left much to be desired. While interesting in nature I found myself wanting more from the story. One of the reasons I felt this is because of the nature of the relationship between the sea creature and Elisa. It felt contrived to me as though it was romantic in order to appeal to audience members who won’t see a movie unless there’s a chance for nudity and other audience members who won’t see a movie without romance.
The combination of the lighting and set design with two primary characters that rely on nonverbal communication is interesting enough to maintain one’s attention so if you’re already a fan of Guillermo del Toro you’re sure to enjoy it. Just don’t expect anything as deep as Pan's Labyrinth.