Categories: CoverMovie ReviewsTop Featured

The Shape of Water Review: Making A Monster Movie Romance

Guillermo Del Toro used to save his arty genre movies for his subtitled productions and make pure genre nonsense in Hollywood. That split is over. The Mexican maestro’s latest American production is one of his most complex and moving outings to date. Of course, it does have a monster in it—that’s just how Del Toro rolls. It’s a magnificent monster as well, in many ways his take on the classic Creature from the Black Lagoon. It’s also spliced with the fairy tale romanticism of Amelie, cold war paranoia, empathetic identity politics, and some of the most beautiful filmmaking to hit screens this year. It’s a remarkable work from a remarkable artist and hopefully it does well enough for Del Toro to continue down this path. Don’t get me wrong, I love Blade II and Pacific Rim, it’s just better to see Del Toro flex all of his artistic muscles.

Doug Jones and Sally Hawkins in The Shape of Water (2017) – image via Fox

The story follows a mute janitor played by Sally Hawkins. She’s ignored by the world and lives a life of routine. She’s also living in a mythical version of Cold War America and cleans a super-secret government facility. She finds moments of magic in her life though, whether it be in the cinema she lives above or her friendships with a closeted artist roommate and an equally repressed co-worker played by Octavia Spencer. Her life goes in a tizzy with the arrival of two monsters. One is a merman creature (Del Toro’s monster regular Doug Jones) who arrives at the facility for study. The other is a government agent played by Michael Shannon who abuses his privilege and power whenever possible. She falls in love with the merman in magical and life affirming ways. She even decides to bust him out of captivity along with Jenkins, Spencer, and a secret Russian spy with a heart of gold played by Michael Stuhlbarg. The creature brings magic to all of their lives and teaches them that they shouldn’t have to keep their true selves hidden. Unfortunately, there’s that other monster and since he’s played by Michael Shannon, it’s safe to assume that he won’t let happiness be the status quo.

Doug Jones in The Shape of Water (2017) – image via Fox

Heavy and heady stuff to be sure. Del Toro is a lifelong monster geek who revels in the ways that monsters can serve as metaphors for outsiders. The Shape of Water plays like his purest example of that theme. All the characters other than the monster are burdened by something that defines them as outsiders and repressed by society. By helping the monster escape captivity, they all find themselves and their power. It’s a pretty obvious metaphor, but one that couldn’t be more timely and is told beautifully within a fairy tale horror story so romantic and thrilling that the vegetables go down smoothly.

Sally Hawkins in The Shape of Water (2017) – image via Fox

It almost goes without saying that the film is beautifully made. That’s the Guillermo Del Toro way. Every set, costume, and shot is meticulously constructed for maximum import and impact. There are layers to everything, but the visceral entertainment rings true. The merman monster is a stunning technical achievement and heartbreaking outsider. The cold war setting ramps up the paranoia and intrigue at all times. Del Toro luxuriates in all the tools available to him in all the genres he mashes together. He even slips in a musical number and it works because the love story between the monster and the mute feels so earned and pure.

Nigel Bennett and Michael Stuhlbarg in The Shape of Water (2017) – image via Fox

Performances are as universally impressive as the script and effects. Sally Hawkins is extraordinarily moving and empathetic despite not having a single line of dialogue at her disposal. Jenkins is equally moving and has the challenge of vocalizing all the movies themes in a way that sounds naturalistic. He pulls it off. Spencer and Stuhlbarg turn characters who could have been one note clichés into quirky and lovable support. Doug Jones finds warmth and personality beneath his mound of latex. And of course, Shannon is a force of nature as the villain. It takes a lot of skill to be a more intimidating and unpleasant screen presence in a film that features a scaly sea monster, but he does it with such ease and command that you can’t take your eyes off him. Within a film that’s so stylish, daring, creepy, and touching, somehow it’s also an effective character study with an impressive ensemble.

Doug Jones, Michael Stuhlbarg, and Sally Hawkins in The Shape of Water (2017)

The Shape of Water is a beautiful fable of the oppressed, an effective monster yarn, and one of the most beautifully unconventional love stories of the year all rolled into one. It almost feels like Del Toro’s ode to everything that he loves about life and cinema. The joy the filmmaker put into the work is infectious. Aside from the most cynical viewers, it’s hard to imagine anyone not being seduced and touched by this magnificent motion picture. It might be Guillermo Del Toro’s finest achievement and the uncertainty speaks only to the remarkable work that he’s done before. Easily one of the best films of the year. Don’t miss it if you have a heart and adore movie monsters (note: if you don’t share those traits, we’ll likely never be friends).


Liked this article and want to read more like it? Check out Phil’s take on Blade Runner 2049, Happy Death Day, and It! He also had a chance to sit down with Guillermo Del Toro. Check out his interview here!

Want to see more videos? Subscribe to our YouTube channel and check out the First 15: Star Wars Battlefront II, Sonic Forces + Episode Shadow, and  Super Mario Odyssey!

Don’t forget to tune in every Friday the Pixels & Ink Podcast to hear the latest news, previews, and in-depth game discussions!

Never miss when new CGM articles go out by following us on Twitter and Facebook!

CGMagazine is Canada’s premiere comics and gaming magazine. Subscribe today to get the best of CGM delivered right to your door! Never miss when a new issue goes live by subscribing to our newsletter! Signing up gives you exclusive entry into our contest pool. Sign up once, you’ll have a chance to win! Sign up today!

Share
Published by
Phil Brown
Tags: Doug Jonesfairy taleFoxGuillermo del ToroMichael ShannonMichael StuhlbargOctavia SpencerRichard JenkinsromanceSally HawkinsThe Shape of Water

Recent Posts

Chris Hardwick responds to Sexual Abuse Allegations from Ex, Chloe Dykstra

Chris Hardwick has delivered his response via PEOPLE Magazine to the allegations posted online by his ex-girlfriend, Chloe Dykstra, outlining a history…

22 hours ago

Lucifer Rises from TV Land Hell Following Fox Cancellation Thanks to Netflix

Netflix has resurrected the supernatural crime drama Lucifer, following the show getting cancelled weeks prior during a spree of cancellations…

23 hours ago

Arc System Works And Studio Trigger Kill la Kill Game Announced

Following a short countdown and a reveal during the latest episode of Darling in the Franxx, which aired in Japan…

4 days ago

Overwatch League Rundown (June 13th): The Most Important Week Yet

Welcome to the most exciting week of the Overwatch League Season so far! Today, the Rundown takes a look at…

4 days ago

Best Comics to Buy This Week: The WEEKND Shines in Starboy #1

This week the Best Comics to Buy list features Netflix's first foray into the world of comic books, Donny Cates'…

4 days ago

PlayStation 4 Fortnite Players Unable to Play on Switch, Sony Responds in Update

With the recent release of Fortnite on the Nintendo Switch, fans that have played the popular battle royale game on…

4 days ago