Guillermo del Toro has truly established himself as one of the pre-eminent storytellers of this generation. Whether he’s wowing audiences with an adaptation of a comic book character (Blade II, Hellboy) or dazzling them with creations sprung from the corners of his own mind (The Strain, Pan’s Labyrinth), I’ve been a fan of del Toro’s ever since “Blade II” and have seen everything he’s directed ever since then. His visual style and sense of character’s relationships with each other as well as supernatural beings grounding worlds of fantasy into the realm of reality is constantly intriguing, and this year, he has taken another bold step into this territory with his new film “The Shape of Water.”
The story focuses on Elisa (Sally Hawkins), a mute custodial worker at a government facility during the Cold War era of the early 1960s. She becomes intrigued by a newly acquired amphibious “asset” (Doug Jones) that is subjected to constant abuse by Colonel Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon) whom, along with his superiors, is only interested in exploiting the creature for research purposes. When Elisa discovers this, she along with her co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer) and her next-door neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins) begin to devise a plot to liberate the creature before he’s destroyed.
This film could very easily be del Toro’s finest hour. For many years now, I always felt that title belonged to “Pan’s Labyrinth”, but the story here is incredibly powerful and original, with characters so beautifully flawed in their own unique way facing their own specific adversity. It is a true character study showing us that no matter how different we all might be, we all carry a passion deep within that drives us to be either the best or worst versions of ourselves, and love or hate can make all the difference in the world. There are numerous standout performances in this film with Octavia Spencer as always as the kind and witty voice of reason and Michael Shannon brings a level of nefariousness to his character that almost makes his turn as Zod in “Man of Steel” look meek by comparison. The prime role in this however is the amazing Sally Hawkins who brings a level of softness and sensitivity to a role that is in sharp contrast to the cold and antiseptic surrounding of the research center that connects her to the creature. She lends the emotional weight necessary that grounds this modern day fairy tale in reality and makes the film work so incredibly well. Kudos to del Toro, his brilliant cast and his incredibly talented production team for bringing this remarkable story to life.