Master Illusionist

The Shape Of Water
Stars: Sally Hawkins, Doug Jones, Octavia Spencer, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins and Michael Stuhlbarg
Director/Scriptwriter: Guillermo Del Toro
Composer: Alexandre Desplat
Cinematographer: Dan Laustsen
Fox Searchlight
Rating: R for violence, nude scenes and themed material
Running Length: 124 Minutes

Director/writer Guillermo Del Toro captivated film audiences in 2006 with his fantasy film set in Spain, “Pan’s Labyrinth.” This was about a little girl, who in the midst of civil war there, created a world in which she was safe. The film also starred Doug Jones, who plays the lead in this film, “The Shape Of Water.” Del Toro can mix fantasy and reality to the extent that you believe in these particular existences the characters dwell in. “The Shape Of Water” also has a female lead (Sally Hawkins as Elisa) and Doug Jones as the other part of this fantastical story. Does water have a shape? That could seem different for each of us. Water can take any form.

“The Shape Of Water” begins in the quiet world of Elisa (Sally Hawkins from “Maudie“) who is a mute and has her life on a precise schedule. She cooks breakfast, packs a lunch, greets her neighbor, Giles (Richard Jenkins), who is a close friend. She then rides a bus to her work at a government labratory where she meets her co-worker, Zelda (Octavia Spencer). They are cleaners at the lab and considered the bottom rung of employment there. Zelda acts as a defense for Elise, as others tease her. Friends include Fleming (David Hewlett) and Dr. Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg), a kindly scientist. Their boss ends up being the villain, Strickland, played with smirking insolence by Michael Shannon and in this film, he does have some great scenes. Within this lab is an enormous secret, that Elise discovers by her acute powers of observation. Though the lab is supposedly security-safe, there are ways the cleaners can move around in the facility and before long, Elise sees---a fish man---and tries to befriend the creature. Strickland, you see, hates it and tortures it with a cattle prod (which even has a name). Where did it come from? What, exactly, is it? What is being planned for it? How many governments want the creature? And in this maze of inquiry, Elise, Zelda and Giles find the answers with peril for themselves.

Sally Hawkins, with her deep eyes, is a natural to play Elisa. Her face and body are a language unto themselves.  Doug Jones, as the fish-man, is a tall actor and even though silent, gives more body expression than many actors. Octavia Spencer (Zelda) and Richard Jenkins (Giles) offer some comic relief to this unusual situation and with their aside comments propel the story forward. It is Michael Shannon’s evil Strickland who centers his scenes (watch his fingers). Here is a villain that has things happen to him, rather than others. In one classic scene, he is dressed down by a General (Nick Searcy) in such descriptive language, a drill sergeant would be taking notes. David Hewlett as Fleming, a scientist, plays a character somewhat like his role as Dr. McKay in “Stargate: Atlantis,” while Michael Stuhlbarg as Dr. Hoffstetler, walks a tightrope with his own secrets. This is an unusual mix of characters and they tell an unusual story.

“The Shape Of Water” had my attention from the first scene, to find out Elisa’s apartment is actually in an old movie theater. Way to go. The love for movies and telling your story in and around a theater allows for dramatic backgrounds to become natural to the viewer. Sally Hawkins was excellent as the artist Maud Lewis in “Maudie,” and at Oscar Nomination time, it would be difficult to decide between the two performance. The side stories are interesting, too, from Zelda’s home to Giles apartment to Strickland’s house, it all plays a part in telling how the characters got to where they are now.

“The Shape of Water” is a science fiction /fantasy/romance/adventure/intrigue story and don’t take your eyes off the screen or you might miss something. Director Guillermo Del Toro uses the entire screen to tell his story. This film has many Oscar nominations at it’s fingertips including Best Film, Actress, Supporting Actress, Actor, Supporting Actor and Original Screenplay. You might want to catch “The Creature From The Black Lagoon” on late night television, too.

Four Tocks

Copyright 2017 Marie Asner