Del Toro on the crest of a wave
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