After making films like Mimic, Hellboy and Blade II, Guillermo del Toro was placed in the spotlight with his Fantasy/Drama classic from 2006, Pan’s Labyrinth. Now, he returns with another story that once again blends fantasy with human emotion. A love story with a sci-fi twist set during the Cold War. A story of a lonely young woman and… a sea creature.
Yes. I know. Stay with me.
Elisa Esposito (played wonderfully by Sally Hawkins) is a mute janitor who works at a top secret government research facility in the 1960s. Aside from friendships with aging artist neighbor down the hall Giles (the veteran Richard Jenkins) and coworker Zelda (Octavia Spencer, who continues to attach her talented self to critically acclaimed work), Elisa is lonely and yearns for an emotional and physical relationship. One day at the facility, she comes across something spectacular; an imprisoned amphibious being the size of a man who forms a connection with Elisa. As their connection strengthens, so does Elisa’s fear for the creature’s safety as they both are under the watchful eye of the hardened and egotistical government agent Richard Strickland (played by masterful character actor Michael Shannon).
Guillermo del Toro is easily one of the most creative minds in the industry today. In this screenplay, he finds a way to intermingle the formulaic “girl meets boy” angle, but flips it on its head with an E.T. twist in a period where society was at a heightened sense of anxiety. While the government is combating the Soviets and trying to keep a seal on this big secret, here are these two characters, a mute woman and a sea creature, falling in love with each other with the former doing whatever it takes to free the latter. It’s way out there, yet del Toro’s genius makes it work beautifully on paper and on camera. The way the camera moves down a long hallway, giving a sort of claustrophobic feel which put the viewer in the room with these characters. It’s an up close and personal feel to the film that del Toro has mastered over the years.
Partnered with outstanding performances by the cast and a score by Alexandre Desplat that captures the emotion of the story, The Shape of Water has earned its status as the front-runner with a whopping thirteen nominations. Three of those nominations belong to del Toro himself, for his original screenplay, directing, and as a producer for this Best Picture nominee. Rounding out with nominations for Original Score (Desplat), Best Actress (Hawkins), Supporting Actor (Jenkins) and Supporting Actress (Spencer), Guillermo del Toro’s fantasy romance masterpiece is bound to come home with quite a few gold statues.