If there is one director we can always count on time and time again to deliver big with impressive features, it's Guillermo Del Toro and, his latest, one of my most anticipated of London Film Festival, The Shape of Water is no exception.

With the likes of Pan's Labyrinth, a couple of Hellboy films, Pacific Rim, visual horror feast Crimson Peak - and plenty more - all under his belt, Del Toro has shown, time and time again, that his title of “a visionary director” is earned. His latest project, The Shape of Water, only cements that further (as if we really needed more any more reason to believe it) and it may be one of his best films yet. It’s astounding. This is a transfixing, intoxicating and wholly dizzying affair that blends thriller with comedy with romance with drama in a film that really feels like it's bound by no rules - fittingly, similarly to the central relationship that develops within the film. This is true cinema, unwavering and beautiful, and Guillermo Del Toro is one of the finest artists working today, able to craft something so different and unique but something so able to sweep us off our feet entirely.
It would be really unfair to the film to get into plot details, given I went into the proceedings so blind to any marketing - any plot synopsis, even! In essence, though, the year is 1962 and our eyes into this world are that of the lonely, mute Elisa (Sally Hawkins) who finds her life changed forever when she discovers a secret classified experiment the government are hiding from the world and working on. From there, what follows is a story of love, a story of friendship, somewhat of a detective mystery, a noir thriller, a period piece: the whole shebang, really. The Shape of Water is quite the mixed bag. But that's what makes it so special. This is a film with such a universal and such an accessible story and it's one of such sincerity and elegance. The screenplay here is dazzling, with such sharp writing of characters and dialogue; The Shape of Water is wholly original and it's very refreshing to see a film tell a unique story on such a scale. It takes its time in setting up its narrative, very purposefully paced, and setting up this world and these characters with such aplomb. 

Given this film is, first and foremost, a fantastical romance, it’s essential for us to really invest in the central love story. And we really do. It’s a little strange to see an amphibian man/monster hybrid and a woman fall in love, at first, but Del Toro tells this story with such heart and sincerity that he makes it work and we quickly find ourselves caring for the story on hand. It’s also a testament to the screenplay too, for managing to give two characters that don't speak (one being a monster) such nuance and depth and such a visceral relationship that demands to be felt. There is such sincerity and heart to all of the characters, but Elisa and our Monster especially, that makes us really care for them and constantly root for them and it’s touching to watch them fall in love and grow.
The performances are all, across the board, stellar too and anchor such palpable characters. Michael Shannon brings a sinister yet oddly suave and somewhat likeable edge to the antagonistic Strickland and Octavia Spencer, Michael Stuhlbarg and Richard Jenkins all lend some great support too. However, this is easily Sally Hawkins’ show to steal and the actress gives such an emotionally grounded, genuine performance here that feels so raw and authentic - made all the more impressive by the fact that she never speaks and conveys everything through expressions. She will definitely - and deservedly - turn heads come to Awards Season. This entire film in general will. It's just that good. Of course, as is the case with any Guillermo Del Toro project, visuals and craft come into the discussion. And he has a story to tell here and he tells it with such aplomb, blending all kinds of genres and themes and tones here with such meticulous precision and craft. There is such nuance permeating every frame and the direction is masterful. Visually, this is absorbing. There is a heavy use of a darker, more sombre colour palette here - hues of greys and blues - but it looks crisp and stunning.

There is something arresting about how this story has been captured. The production design is equally as luscious too, and this film very much has that old-school, vintage tinge to it and fits right into its 1980s environment. Guillermo Del Toro has created something, yet again, so transfixing and brilliant with The Shape of Water. It is flawed, with the film perhaps feeling a little longer than it needed to, but it's minor given the whole picture. This is a visually gorgeous, enthralling, beautiful and wholly original work of art that will sweep you up into its world and leave you jaw-dropping and teary-eyed by its elegance. This is easily Del Toro’s best film since Pan's Labyrinth and it is undoubtedly one of the best films of the year.


The Shape of Water is a luscious, dizzying, and utterly transfixing narcosis of remarkable, awe-inspired cinematic wonder.

Tagged as

About the Author

Awais Irfan
Founder of Oasis Awais, and avid lover of life, Awais Irfan's love of writing and film is unequivocal. Ever since he was a little kid, he has loved the cinematic experience; so much so, he is studying Film Production in Glasgow and hopes to be the next "big thing" in directing.

Related Posts