Del Toro on the crest of a wave

Airdrie & Coatbridge Advertiser - - The Ticket -

The Shape of Water (15) ●●●● ●

Other than dis­ap­point­ing old school ghost story Crim­son Peak in 2015, it’s been five years since Guillermo del Toro went be­hind the cam­era (Pa­cific Rim) – and 12 years since his last truly stel­lar flick (Pan’s Labyrinth).

We’re in sim­i­lar gothic fan­tasy-drama ter­ri­tory to Pan’s here as Sally Hawkins’ mute cleaner Elisa forms a unique re­la­tion­ship with a crea­ture, Am­phib­ian Man (Doug Jones), kept in a top se­cret re­search fa­cil­ity at the height of the Cold War.

The Shape of Water has been nom­i­nated for a whop­ping 13 Os­cars and it’s easy to see why the Academy was hyp­no­tised by this beau­ti­fully shot, Beauty and the Beast-es­que tale.

Del Toro shoots var­i­ous shades of green, with splashes of browns and creams, to give his film a con­stant aquatic flavour – helped no end by seem­ingly never end­ing flows of water from buck­ets, drains, bath tubs, tanks, rivers and rain­fall – and the six­ties’ pe­riod is recre­ated im­pres­sively.

The script – co-penned by del Toro and Vanessa Tay­lor (Diver­gent, Hope Springs) – em­bod­ies the para­noia and closed-off views of the time, where a diner owner can be­come a truly re­pug­nant pres­ence based on four cut­ting lines.

It packs in a lot of dif­fer­ent plot strands and while most work well, there are some that don’t as too of­ten we’re dis­tracted from the main cen­tral re­la­tion­ship at the film’s heart.

And what an odd-but-touch­ing bond it is with Hawkins and Jones’ di­a­logue-free courtship un­like any­thing we’ve seen be­fore – and sway­ing on the edge of be­ing a bit too bizarre.

Thank­fully, Hawkins’ out­stand­ing Os­carnommed turn is al­ways there to grab you; shorn of her vo­cal chords, she is ex­pres­sive through mo­tion, touch and her soul­ful eyes as she goes about her busi­ness in pur­pose­ful, whim­si­cal fash­ion rem­i­nis­cent of Au­drey Tautou in 2001’s ace Amélie.

Jones – del Toro’s go-to per­former for makeup and mo-cap-led roles – im­presses too, even though Am­phib­ian Man is ba­si­cally his Abe Sapien from Hell­boy with­out a voice.

The vir­tu­oso sup­port­ing cast in­cludes Michael Shan­non’s cold, straight-talk­ing colonel, a fan­tas­ti­cally fun Richard Jenk­ins and Oc­tavia Spencer’s chatty and loyal Zelda.

We may be in fan­tasy ro­mance ter­ri­tory, but del Toro’s trade­mark dark­ness and splashes of gore are sprin­kled through­out; from sev­ered fin­gers and Shan­non’s creepi­ness to sneaky sex acts and the grisly fate of a cat.

Re­turn­ing to the afore­men­tioned Amélie, Alexan­dre De­s­plat’s score – util­is­ing whis­tles, flutes and an ac­cor­dion – is highly evoca­tive of the French film’s mu­sic.

And it’s these fa­mil­iar­i­ties to other work – and its in­fe­ri­or­ity to del Toro’s own sem­i­nal Pan’s Labyrinth – that leave the oth­er­wise sub­lime Shape of Water slightly gasp­ing for breath.

Break­ing bar­ri­ers Hawkins and Jones form a bond Cin­ema with Ian Bunt­ing

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