The Shape of Water (2017)
As the film opens, the camera moves down a hallway that is underwater. We slowly enter a room where the chairs are floating in the water above a table. Through the windows, we see fish swimming by the apartment. The camera turns around the room, and we see a woman asleep floating above a couch. Suddenly the water leaves, an alarm clock rings and Elisa (Sally Hawkins) awakens, turning off the alarm. We hear a fire truck drive by with its alarm blazing. There is also talking going on, but we can’t quite place where it’s coming from. Elisa puts on a robe, goes in the bathroom and starts drawing a bath. As Elisa goes in the kitchen, the camera pans down, moving beneath the floorboard, going down until we realize the talking was coming from a movie theater that is directly below Elisa’s apartment.
Elisa puts three eggs in boiling water, grabs a timer off the counter and heads toward the bathroom. She sets the time on the sink, looks at herself in the mirror, takes her robe off and gets into the bath. Later, she is dressed for work, Elisa pulls a page off the daily calendar, looking over the back of the page for an inspirational message, picks out her shoes, then gives them a shine. She takes a plate full of food with her as she exits her apartment and enters the apartment next door. She brings the plate of food to Giles (Richard Jenkins) who is working on painting an ad for Jell-O. Giles tells her that all the sirens were from fire trucks heading to a fire at the chocolate factory. As they converse, we realize that Elisa is mute, she communicates through sign language and gestures. They stop their conversation to watch an old musical starring Shirley Temple as Shirley dances with Bill Robinson.
Elisa leaves Giles apartment, does a little tap dance in the hallway and heads outside. We see the fire down the street and men are changing the theatre marquee. Elisa gets on a bus, whistles a bit in her seat, takes off her hat and leans on the bus window. Elisa arrives at work, and her name is called out, her friend Zelda (Octavia Spencer) is holding her space in line to punch a time card. The camera pulls in on the time card slot, and we see that it’s midnight. We follow the two around as they do various cleaning chores. It’s apparent that the two work at some sort of laboratory. As they work, Zelda keeps talking to Elisa about her life with her husband. They enter a restricted area where Zelda has to use a key card to open the large doors. They have entered a room that is full of workers and scientists. It is apparent that some of the equipment that they have in the room has just come in, as there are shipping boxes and paper everywhere. As the supervisor gives everyone a speech on how important their latest project is and how secret it is, workers come into the room with a large, long tube with windows. As the tube is brought into the room, we see a man in a dark suit and hat comes in behind the tube. He is a man (Michael Shannon), a stern looking, no-nonsense type of man. As the man in the dark suit meets with several scientists in the room, Elisa comes over to the tube to see what is inside. The contents of the tube are going to change Elisa on how she sees herself in the world, and it might just change her life.
When you got to a Guillermo del Toro film, you know you are entering a very different world than the world you live it. There will be mystical things happening on the screen that will challenge you as a viewer. The Shape of Water is no different, taking the tale of The Creature from the Black Lagoon and putting it on its ear. This is a beautiful looking film from the opening shot going down the submerged apartment hallway to the last shot of this film. Cinematographer Dan Laustsen gives the film a warm look in its lighting of Elise’s and Giles apartments, making us ready for something magical to occur. Laustsen makes the cinema below her seem like a warm and wonderful place. There should be a vast contrast with the lighting of the laboratory, but the harsh lighting of the fluorescent s is muted by the use of green and blue hues of the tiles and the water in the tube. The light of the town at night has a green hue to it as if we are still underwater with Elise in her apartment during the opening scene.
Del Toro has the camera constantly moving, always with Elise in the center of the picture, as if everything in this world centers around her. This is a love story between a lonely woman who is set in her routine and the creature that is inside the tube, an underwater creature (Doug Jones) that looks like a cross between a man and a fish (think Creature from the Black Lagoon). The film has everything; musical dances (one in black and white), a spy plot full of intrigue, a villain so ruthless that you hate him from the first time you see him, and a romance where the woman is the one who is doing the wooing.
The cast is superb with Octavia Spencer perfectly cast as Elise’s best friend. Spencer does what she does best, the bossy best friend who doesn’t have an off switch and will do anything for her Elise’s happiness. Richard Jenkins is terrific as the sad sack neighbor Giles. Jenkins is masterful at getting everything out of a part, and his performance of the down on his luck artist is superb. Michael Shannon as the man who thinks it’s his job to torture the creature, finding joy when he does. Shannon is adept at making each performance his own and in this one, he brings to life a man whose blood runs cold. The film centers on the divine Sally Hawkins who gives a lovely and touching performance. Hawkins Elise is a strong woman who is ready to take chances when love is involved. It’s Hawkins that makes you believe that her love for an amphibian man is real and not strange. Hawkins seems to float on the screen, especially when she is dancing, moving gracefully in each scene. Her curiosity about the creature and later love for it is infectious and shows on the screen. Hawkins makes Elise a character that anyone would want to be friends with.
With The Shape of Water Guillermo del Toro brings us a fairy tale of a film that weaves a magical spell over the audience. It’s a moving tale that you won’t soon forget. My Rating: I Would Pay to See it Again
My movie rating system from Best to Worst: 1). I Would Pay to See it Again 2). Full Price 3). Bargain Matinee 4). Cable 5). You Would Have to Pay Me to See it Again
The film is currently playing at Atlanta area theaters.
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