The Shape of Water is Guillermo del Toro’s signature part monster flick, part fairytale love story. With dark, gritty tones and his use of makeup and prosthetics instead of CGI, del Toro returns to the roots and style of his earlier works evoking feelings of Pan’s Labyrinth.
Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins), main character, is a wide eye doe mute janitor for the Occam Aerospace Research Center in the early 1960s. Elisa’s friends are a sassy black woman named Zelda (Octavia Spencer) and Robert Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg) a down on his luck gay advertising artist. Guillermo blends and mixes the feelings into something very sincere and relatable, as each character is depicted as being an outcast from society.
The villain, Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon), discovers and forces a creature dubbed “The Asset (Doug Jones)” back to the Occam facility. Strickland is the epitome of white patriarchy, taking and pillaging for personal gain with ignorance and little to no regard of consequences; this ultimately leads to his downfall.
The Asset, like many creatures in recent film history, is a representation of beauty and innocence. It could also be a representation of pure, simple love. When Elisa sees this creature she has nothing but compassion and acceptance. She sees him as looking past her imperfections and seeing her for what she is, a princess.
“It’s a classic fairytale with modern sensibility, it also has gorgeous cinematography,” theater major Ryan Hopkins said.
After an incident happens with The Asset, Elisa and Zelda are called in to clean. Elisa sees this creature and realizes his pain. She starts having meals near the creature and feeding him hard boiled eggs. After an undetermined period of time their relationship flourishes and she begins to develop feelings. Elisa also begins to concoct a plan to free The Asset, from there the film takes flight.
Every one of these characters is a stereotype in the beginning, but in the end, del Toro makes them much more fleshed out and heartfelt. Each has their own desires and hardships that unveil and could easily be their own movie. Mainly focusing on Elisa’s, Robert’s, and Strickland’s personal lives, Zelda’s only seen in a professional setting until the climax. This gives her an interesting and powerful role that pulls her away from the stereotype of sassy black woman.
This movie earned an A grade. It’s a classic fairy tale type love story; what’s even more surprising is how natural this interspecies relationship feels. Not once do you really question this, and it’s hard to gauge if this thing really is a creature or something more at times. The development of these unique and unusual characters makes this movie feels as natural as breathing. Nothing surprises, but everything intrigues the senses. Like many comedies mixed with drama, it’s like oil and vinegar, but del Toro blended them perfectly.