‘The Shape of Water’ breathes life into familiar story with stunning visuals

Movie Review graphic

Noah Moore

As pieces of furniture whirl around in placid water until finding their place on the ground, the scene transcends from underwater to a small apartment above a movie theater in the early 1960s. The audience is introduced to a mute woman, played by Sally Hawkins in all of her Oscar-worthy glory. This is just a glimpse of the gorgeous combination of direction and cinematography coupled with stellar performances in Guillermo del Toro’s “The Shape of Water,” a modern and dark yet ironic take on “Romeo and Juliet.”

The film, which just racked up 13 Academy Award nominations, is the clear frontrunner for Best Picture at this year’s awards show, and it is not without reason. The film follows Elisa Esposito, played by Hawkins, as she begins her job as a janitor at a government laboratory, which gives her exposure to some of the government’s innermost secrets.

As she becomes close with a mutant humanoid amphibian and feeds it her lunch, the two develop chemistry that simply can’t be explained. The government soon finds out, and the plot unravels to tear the two apart, mainly because a mutant creature and a human are not a conventional pair.

The ending fuses the story’s meaning in a beautiful way that is nothing less than presumptive from del Toro. By using the audience’s perspective of Elisa to his advantage, del Toro takes the screenplay and creates an ending that is familiar yet unexpected.

Each character has an ulterior motive that makes the plot seem so egocentric, yet they all possess some degree of human nature that makes it all work, even the mutant humanoid amphibian. The storyline is well thought-out and, though it has been done before, it feels avant-garde in a sense.

Standout performances include Hawkins’ performance as the main character. Her character is mute, yet she grips our hearts with her eyes and bold looks so much that we root for her unconventional love. Her performance is as deceptive as it is delighting. Richard Jenkins stands out as Giles, Esposito’s neighbor, in a dramatic yet not overbearing manner. Octavia Spencer also stands out as Zelda Delilah Fuller.

The emotional backbone of the piece arrives in full force through Alexandre Desplat’s Golden Globe-winning score which emboldens the plotline without bullying the dramatic nature of the piece.

Each part works with the other in tandem in this film to deliver a story of simplicity enraptured in bizarreness and intrigue. “The Shape of Water” is a cinematic tour-de-force and should not be missed.

Many Oscar nominees come and are forgotten years later, but this film feels as essential as water itself and has earned itself a place among Hollywood’s best. Expect a big night in March for this picture, including strong chances in Best Picture, Best Director, Best Score and Best Production Design.

Features reporter Noah Moore can be reached at 270-745-6291 and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @noah_moore18.