Fox Searchlight Pictures/ "Shape of Water"

“The Shape of Water”: A Captivating Narrative

The Shape of Water is the newest film from the brilliant visionary director and screenwriter Guillermo del Toro and premiered in Lebanon on February 1st. Del Toro, whose highly respected filmography includes Hellboy and its sequel Hellboy II: The Golden Army, The Devil’s Backbone, Blade II, Pacific Rim, and his much-loved masterpiece Pan’s Labyrinth, has once again managed to stun audiences in his latest venture.

In attempting to break expectations with The Shape of Water, Del Toro has succeeded. The Shape of Water is easily one of the most controversial movies of 2017, with mixed reviews from audience members. One thing is for sure though, and it is the fact that the film  has managed to grab everyone’s attention. It was recently awarded the prestigious Golden Lion for ‘Best Film’ at the Venice International Film Festival, and is currently nominated in 13 different categories at the Academy Awards.

Similarly to Pan’s Labyrinth, Del Toro’s latest fits into the genre of fairytale — adult fairytale that is — as it exhibits sexually explicit scenes and graphic violence that some viewers might find disturbing. Set in Baltimore in 1962 during the Cold War, The Shape of Water is a dark romantic fantasy about the unconventional romance between a young woman and an underwater creature. The film’s talented cast includes Sally Hawkins, Doug Jones, Michael Shannon, and Octavia Spencer.

Sally Hawkins perfectly encapsulates the role of the shy and lonely Elisa, a mute cleaning lady that works midnight shifts at a top-secret military facility when she meets and falls in love with the imprisoned Amphibian Man played by Del Toro’s favorite, Doug Jones. Octavia Spencer plays Elisa’s endearing best friend, Zelda, and Michael Shannon is outstanding as the sinister Agent Strickland who brutally tortures Amphibian Man in the name of scientific research.

Del Toro is a great storyteller who is able to immerse the moviegoer into his colorful world, making it very difficult to take your eyes off of the screen. Every detail of this carefully crafted world comes to life. From the great sets, the Amphibian Man’s stunning monster makeup, to the captivating musical score composed by the talented Alexandre Desplat, this movie is a must-watch.

The first half does not disappoint as it showcases a wonderful fairytale introduction, and leaves its theaters, diners, and even wonder-filled bus rides with a nostalgic essence. It is not all a magical experience, however, as we also see the casual racism, and other forms of abuse that is forced upon those who are perceived to be different. Perhaps this is due to the timeframe the movie is set in, which is known for its snarky remarks and wide judgement of others. The Amphibian Man is one of those victims, as he was taken from his South American home only to be imprisoned, tortured, and examined as part of the war efforts of the American military.

As the plot develops, the storyline actually falls short. The romance between Elisa and Amphibian Man disappoints, as it feels rushed and forced. This is a major disappointment  especially since the movie’s plot is founded on the love story between these two characters. In addition, Michael Shannon’s villain is dispatched a little too quickly despite the huge build-up for this character throughout the story, which should have led to an epic final showdown.  

Instead of a much-anticipated big finish, we are treated to something that fizzles. Despite the finale’s shortcomings, the last scene of The Shape of Water is the ending that we ultimately want.

Nevertheless, The Shape of Water tackles universal themes that appeal to the viewer’s intrigue. It tackles themes of lonely people looking for love in an unforgiving world, and of hidden magic that can only be found if one knows where to look for it. The movie undoubtedly succeeds in shining a light on those who are different or “magical”, who struggle to survive in a world that suppresses independent thinking in the name of military superiority and colonial expansion. Sound familiar?

Despite certain shortcomings, The Shape of Water is worth watching, even though you can’t help but wonder whether the movie could have been more engaging had the love story been developed more delicately.

Verdict: A visually appealing movie by a brilliant storyteller, however the disappointing interspecies love story fails to crossover to reality and convince the viewer.