Sunday, February 04, 2018
The Shape of Water
Directed by Guillermo del Toro and screenplay by del Toro and Vanessa Taylor from a story by del Toro, The Shape of Water is the story of a mute custodian at a secret lab run by the American government who falls for a mysterious creature whom the lab is experimenting on. Set in the early 1960s during the Cold War, the film is an exploration of a woman who meets this amphibious creature and sees him for what he really is where she and friends try to protect it from dark forces. Starring Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Octavia Spencer, Richard Jenkins, Michael Stuhlbarg, and Doug Jones as the mysterious sea creature. The Shape of Water is a rapturous and intoxicating film from Guillermo del Toro.
The film is a simple story set in early 1960s Baltimore where a mysterious creature had been captured by the American government for experiments where a mute custodian at the lab befriends and later falls for the creature. It’s a film that bear a lot of elements of the fairy tale but it is presented in a world that is teetering on the brink of world dominance as this mute woman and mysterious creature from the sea in the middle. The film’s screenplay by Guillermo del Toro and Vanessa Taylor has an unusual approach in which the creature and the protagonist in Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins) never speak a word with the latter communicating through sign language. It’s the supporting characters such as Elisa’s co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer), her neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins), a scientist named Dr. Robert Hoffsetler (Michael Stuhlbarg) who is a Soviet spy, and a government official in Colonel Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon) who captured the creature that do much of the talking in the film.
Elisa is a woman with a routine as she works at nights to clean up with Zelda as the reason she doesn’t speak is due to a neck injury she had when she was a baby. Giles is considered like a caretaker of her of sorts who is struggling to create ads for companies that are changing their ideas of what they want. Yet, Giles is also coping with aging and the fact that he’s gay where he shares his loneliness with Elisa who knows that he’s gay and has no problem with it. Zelda is an African-American who isn’t afraid to say what is on her mind as she also protects Elisa from the suspicion of Colonel Strickland whom she isn’t fond of. Colonel Strickland isn’t a traditional antagonist as he is eager to do his job but also has a family to provide for where he is also paranoid about the Soviet Union spying on what they captured. Then there’s Dr. Hoffsetler as he is a Soviet spy but his interest in the creature is more about science rather than give the Soviets an advantage where he becomes sympathetic for the creature as he knows what it can do and wants to help it.
The direction of del Toro has this mixture of old-Hollywood mixed in with elements of fantasy as well as a look of early 1960s consumerism and conformity despite the sense of unrest that is looming in those times. Shot largely in Hamilton, Ontario in Canada with some of it shot in Toronto, del Toro captures a time in America where the Cold War is looming and things are changing to keep up with people wanting things like Cadillacs or diners that are safe. Yet, there is still something off as it relates to what is really happening as it’s something Giles doesn’t want to see as he has enough reality to deal where he tries to make a pass at a waiter at the diner who he thought was gay who also refuses to serve an African-American couple. It’s among these tropes that del Toro would put in the film to establish the tone of the times which also feels real as the only pleasure for Giles and Elisa they have are through old films they watch on TV or at the cinema that is below their apartment.
While del Toro would use some wide shots of the locations as well as the scope of the lab and a few scenes inside the movie theater. Much of del Toro’s direction would involve more intimate shots in the close-ups and medium shots as it play into the interaction with the characters including the scenes of Elisa and the creature in how they communicate and how they bond. Even as del Toro isn’t afraid to display this air of sexuality early in the film as it relates to Elisa’s routine and her own feelings for the monster who feels like he understands her much better than a lot of human beings. That is something that Col. Strickland isn’t able to understand yet he is still a complex individual as del Toro would create some unique compositions to play into his determination to find what the monster is useful for in the advantage of the Cold War.
It adds to the sense of misunderstanding of what humanity can’t deal with whenever they encounter something that is different where del Toro sees the creature as a being with a soul that is there for the good of the world. It’s something Giles, Zelda, and Elisa would see as does Dr. Hoffsetler who becomes aware that the Soviets have no interest in what the creature can do as it play into this tug-of-war between two superpowers who just want an advantage in this dangerous conflict. Still, del Toro is focused on this unlikely love story between Elisa and the creature as it is about two beings in love and wanting to be with each other without any complications in relation to the real world. Overall, del Toro creates a ravishing and enchanting film about a mute woman who falls for a mysterious creature from the sea.
Cinematographer Dan Laustsen does brilliant work with the film’s cinematography with its usage of colorful lighting schemes and moods with the usage of green and teal-like colors for many of the film’s interior settings as well as some colorful lighting for some of the exterior scenes at night including the usage of low-key colors for the scenes in the water as well as a black-and-white dream sequence. Editor Sidney Wolinsky does excellent work with the editing as it has elements of style in some jump-cuts though much of it is straightforward with some rhythmic cuts to play into the suspense. Production designer Paul D. Austerberry, with set decorators Jeffrey A. Melvin and Shane Vieau plus art director Nigel Churcher, does amazing work with the look of the lab in all of its detail to the water tanks and electronic equipment to the look of the apartments that Giles and Elisa live in as well as the interior of Col. Strickland’s home. Costume designer Luis Sequeira does fantastic work with the costumes as it play into the period of the early 1960s with the way the suits look as well as some of the dresses that the women wore in those times.
Special makeup effects by Mike Hill and Shane Mahan do incredible work with the look of the creature in all of its intricate designs including body parts that light up as it one of the finest feats of creature design. Visual effects supervisors Dennis Berardi, Trey Harrell, and Kevin Scott do terrific work with the visual effects that’s set in the water as well as some set dressing for some of the exterior scenes in the film. Sound editor Nathan Robitaille does superb work with the sound as it play into the atmosphere of the locations including some of the sounds in the lab with Robitaille and del Toro providing some of the vocals sounds of the creature. The film’s music by Alexandre Desplat is marvelous for its enchanting orchestral score that is filled with lush string arrangements and tingling percussion textures as it adds to the sense of fantasy and the suspense in the film while its soundtrack features music from Madeleine Peyroux, Benny Goodman, Andy Williams, Alice Faye, Glenn Miller, and Roger Suen.
The casting by Robin D. Cook and Jonathan Oliveira is remarkable as it feature some notable small roles from John Kapelos as the cinema owner Mr. Arzoumanian, Morgan Kelly as the diner waiter who sells pies, Wendy Lyon as Col. Strickland’s secretary, Madison Ferguson and Jayden Grieg as Col. Strickland’s children, Stewart Arnott as an advertising executive friend of Giles, Nigel Bennett as a Soviet spy that Dr. Hoffstetler talks to, Lauren Lee Smith as Col. Strickland’s wife Elaine, David Hewlett as one of the military scientists in Fleming who is asked to spy on Dr. Hoffstetler, and Nick Searcy as Col. Strickland’s superior General Frank Hoyt who wants the monster be used as a tool for the Cold War.
Michael Stuhlbarg is fantastic as Dr. Robert Hoffstetler as a scientist who is really a Soviet spy that is studying the creature where he realizes that the creature offers so much more as he decides to help Elisa rather than answer to Col. Strickland and the Soviets. Octavia Spencer is excellent as Zelda Delilah Fuller as a talkative custodian who often speaks for Elisa as well as be a conscience of sorts in the film where she would protect Elisa and the creature in the hope that Elisa could find some happiness. Richard Jenkins is brilliant as Giles as Elisa’s neighbor and an aging advertising agent who often wears a toupee where he struggles with age and the need for companionship as well as changing times as he sees the creature as a beacon of hope where he sees what kind of magic it could do as well as be a great sense of hope for Elisa.
Michael Shannon is amazing as Colonel Richard Strickland as a government agent who captures the creature in the hopes he can extract something that could be useful for the human race in the Cold War as he’s a complex man that loves his family and knows a lot of literature where Shannon brings a chilling and scary performance of a man that is willing to kill. Doug Jones is great in his role as the creature where, despite not having any dialogue, he manages to provide a sense of soul and intelligence where it’s just a marvel to watch. Finally, there’s Sally Hawkins in a phenomenal performance as Elisa Esposito as a mute custodian worker who speaks through sign language as she is fascinated by this sea creature where it’s Hawkins’ charm, child-like innocence, and adult-like desires that is key to her performance as it is really a career-defining performance for Hawkins.
The Shape of Water is a magnificent film from Guillermo del Toro. Featuring a great cast, gorgeous visuals, a compelling story that mixes various genres, an eerie setting, and a sumptuous music score by Alexandre Desplat. It’s a film that captures the sense of wonderment in something that is extraordinary where a woman tries to protect it from those who have inhuman means of using the creature for their own reasons. In the end, The Shape of Water is a spectacular film from Guillermo del Toro.
Guillermo del Toro Films: Cronos - Mimic - The Devil's Backbone - Blade II - Hellboy - Pan's Labyrinth - Hellboy II: The Golden Army - Pacific Rim - Crimson Peak
The Auteurs #10: Guillermo del Toro
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