Paul Mendoza

“If I told you about her, what would I say? That they lived happily ever after? I believe they did. That they were in love? That they remained in love? I’m sure that’s true. But when I think of her – of Elisa – the only thing that comes to mind is a poem, whispered by someone in love, hundreds of years ago: “Unable to perceive the shape of You, I find You all around me. Your presence fills my eyes with Your love, It humbles my heart, For You are everywhere.” Giles

The Shape of Water is a love story. It’s a darker version of Splash (1984). It’s a monster movie slash romantic thriller. Sound intriguing? It should. It is unlike any movie you will see. It reminded me, not only of Splash but also those wonderful French films, Delicatessen (1991) and City of Lost Children (1995), directed by Marc Caro and Jean-Pierret Jeunet.

It is light hearted and romantic while also being dark, edgy and gritty and a bit unsettling. It comes from the mind of Guillermo del Toro, a Mexican director with a love of ‘monsters’. He has a unique vision and his enthusiasm and love for cinema really shines here.

“The natives in the Amazon worshipped it. Like a god. We need to take it apart, learn how it works.” Colonel Strickland

Elisa (Sally Hawkins) is a sweet mute woman who works in a top-secret government facility during The Cold War. Colonel Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon) has captured a humanoid fish creature (Doug Jones) and has brought it to this facility for further investigation. The Americans want to vivisect it to see how it can be used in the ‘space race’. Dr. Robert Hofstetter (Michael Stuhlbarg) is against this and wants to keep it alive to study. Hofstetter is also a Russian asset and has been given orders to destroy the creature. Elisa, discovering the creature, strikes up an unusual relationship with it.

They both are outsiders that cannot communicate with others very well. They develop an affection for one another.Elisa decides to protect her friend and with the help of Hofstetter and her cleaning woman friend, Zelda (Octavia Spencer) they hide the creature at Elisa’s apartment. Her next door neighbor and father figure Giles (Richard Jenkins) helps her care for the creature. Of course, Strickland is in hot pursuit and the pressure builds to an exciting finish.

“When he looks at me, the way he looks at me… He does not know, what I lack… Or – how – I am incomplete. He sees me, for what I – am, as I am. He’s happy – to see me. Every time. Every day. Now, I can either save him… or let him die.” Giles [interpreting Elisa]

Elisa and The Creature of course, fall in love. This is bestiality some would say. Well, of course it is! What was Beauty and the Beast? The same type of relationship happens in Splash but in Splash the mermaid is only half fish and she could become full human on dry land for a period. This creature is full fish. It’s a little weird, I must admit, and here is where the dark bit comes in. But, it’s a movie, a fantasy. You either roll with it or not.

Sally Hawkins is great. She conveys an otherworldly quality that The Creature must sense. Michael Shannon plays creepy really well. He’s a great villain and you sense he is attracted to Elisa as well which adds a pinch of jealousy to his fervor. Michael Stuhlbarg seems to be in every Oscar nominated film this year! He’s one of the best character actors of our time. Richard Jenkins, another great character actor. You may not know his name but you know you’ve seen his face. I can remember him as Veronica Cartwright’s besieged husband in The Witches of Eastwick (1987). He was also the ghost father in Six Feet Under. He’s been great for years and he’s really wonderful here as Elisa’s gay bestie, netting his 2nd Oscar nomination. Octavia Spencer earns her third Oscar nomination for her work here. She just keeps getting better and better.

But this is Guillermo Del Toro’s show through and through. His vision and love of ‘monsters’ and movies is a contagious passion that leaps off the screen. It may be a little too dark and disturbing for some but if you are a little more open to the dark side of love you may find this to be a delightful journey to a new and never before seen world.