“Well, the first thing is that I love monsters. I identify with monsters.”
No filmmaker has plumbed the soul of screen monsters with more fire and empathy than Guillermo del Toro. The master behind Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy, and Pacific Rim has long shown a deep understanding of what monsters mean to us, and why we need them. The Shape of Water is his strongest expression yet of the shivering appeal of monsters, and the unsettling notion that the monstrous can be revealed in many forms.
In 1963, Elisa (Sally Hawkins, Maudie, Blue Jasmine, An Education) works as a janitor at a US government laboratory. One night, a strange, amphibious creature (del Toro regular Doug Jones) is wrangled into the facility. Elisa is more fascinated than frightened. What scares her more is the threat posed by the federal agent in charge (Michael Shannon, Mud, Take Shelter). Cruel and self-serving, he seems convinced the surest way to handle the mysterious creature is to kill it. With the help of her neighbour Giles (Richard Jenkins), her co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer, Fruitvale Station), and a sympathetic scientist (Michael Stuhlbarg, Call Me by Your Name, Trumbo), Elisa hatches a plan to save the creature’s life, at the risk of her own.
Strange marvels abound in The Shape of Water. Marshalling these remarkable performances together with stunning production design, fluid camerawork, and Alexandre Desplat’s gorgeous score, del Toro delivers unforgettable film poetry. Movie fans will luxuriate in the wealth of references to classic monster movies and mid-century thrillers. Some will note the film’s layered subtexts of social critique. But none of that is necessary to enjoy the pure pleasure of watching a master filmmaker working at the height of his powers, exploring the world he most loves.
“It’s a heartbreaking love story about loneliness and the transcendent power of language, and it’s simply magical.” (Erin Whitney, ScreenCrush)
“Perhaps the greatest of The Shape of Water‘s many surprises is how extravagantly romantic it is, driven throughout by an all-conquering belief in soulmates as lifelines.” (Guy Lodge, Variety)
“Without a single weak link in the exceptional cast…it’s a film that makes you feel a lot. But overridingly you feel lucky—lucky to be watching it, lucky that something so sincerely sweet, sorrowfully scary and surpassingly strange can exist in this un-wonderful world, and desirous of hanging on to as much of its magic for as long as you can after you reemerge back onto dry land.” (Jessica Kiang, The Playlist)