Philippine Daily Inquirer
Dreamlike, magical ‘Shape of Water’
In Guillermo del Toro’s quirky fantasy-romance “The Shape of Water,” a mute woman discovers a connection with a merman that’s being held captive in a research facility—like a reverse “Beauty and the Beast,” with a Cold War twist.
The film centers on unspeaking janitress Elisa (Sally Hawkins), who goes about her daily routine willingly, but occasionally daydreams about music and momentary escapes.
Elisa has a close friendship with her gay neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins), as well as with coworker Zelda (Octavia Spencer). But the arrival of a bizarre fish-man, dubbed “The Asset” (Doug Jones), tests Elisa’s relationships with those dearest to her.
The creature is accompanied by its captor, cattle prodwielding Colonel Strickland (Michael Shannon), who could spell doom for Elisa’s blossoming secret friendship with the amphibious being.
In this lushly realized world, Del Toro manages to create a “Romeo and Juliet”like scenario. It’s odd, however, that the merman looks a lot like the aquatic Abe Sapien, who was played by Jones twice in the “Hellboy” films that Del Toro directed in the last decade.
It’s a little distracting, but once you’re past that feeling of design déjà vu, the growing rapport between the scaly humanoid and Elisa becomes easier to accept.
Throughout the spellbinding venture—a working synthesis between Del Toro’s fantastical and reality-grounded sensibilities—Hawkins captivates as a mousy, meek and unassuming character. It also surprises that she’s able to discard her “plain Jane” persona and become a sensual and emotional person when the narrative calls for it.
Shannon, meanwhile, captures the villain’s dichotomy well, making it such a complex character.
The subplots flesh out the lives of the supporting players, as well. The nuances presented in Giles’ characterization— he’s an artist smitten with a young man working at the restaurant—adds layers to the story, and elaborates on the era’s social limitations. And, a glimpse into Zelda’s home confirms the problematic life that she hints about at work.
As for the main romance, it’s dreamlike but believable enough that you root for the unlikely partners, even when the odds are hopelessly stacked against them.
“The Shape of Water” conjures up that pristine, unadulterated blend of innocence and magic, helping form a strange but fulfilling live-action fairy tale for grown-ups.