In Brief: The Shape of Water shapes up to be one of the year’s best and a definite do not miss.
Brilliant. Original. Or at least original using not-so-original themes. Best actress. Supporting actors and actress. Best picture. Best director. Best screenplay. Best everything.
The Shape of Water is that good.
Set in the space race challenged 1960s, Sally Hawkins is Elisa Esposito. She is mute and can hear but can’t talk. Elisa’s best friend is a gay man — done by Richard Jenkins — in the apartment across the hall. She dotes on him. Elisa’s other best friend is Octavia Spencer’s Zelda. They are janitors at a top-secret government facility.
One day an amphibious creature is brought into the building by Michael Shannon’s Richard Strickland. He’s a creepy military guy who strictly enforces who can or cannot see the creature. The government is interested in the military and space race value and advantages an analysis of the thing can give us.
Elisa — responsible for cleaning the area — eventually befriends and teaches the thing to communicate with her.
The Shape of Water — as noted — is original but not. The creature comes from South America and looks just like the monster from the 1954 classic Creature from the Black Lagoon. One can assume the two are somehow related. Or not. You’re never told. And it doesn’t matter.
It’s also a King Kong kind of love story with an impossibly ugly, scaled creature connecting in impossible ways with a young, beautiful woman. You don’t need to know much more about the plot. Just go see the movie.
Hawkins’ Elisa can’t talk. So she communications beautifully through facial expressions and with body talk. Her wordless work speaks volumes about the talent of this very good — but alas, little known — actress. She says more saying nothing than most actresses can say with pages of dialogue.
It doesn’t hurt that Hawkins gets superb help from the lately ubiquitous Spencer, the can-do-no-wrong Jenkins, from Shannon’s villainy and to some extent from the facility’s director done by Michael Stuhlbarg (Steve Jobs).
Few character actresses can cover more territory with a look or short sentence than Spencer (The Help, The Shack, Hidden Figures). She provides a nice touch of humanity to the insanity at the lab and adds this most excellent performance to her award-worthy body of work.
Equally charming is Jenkins. Few character actors are better. If you don’t know the name, you will instantly recognize the face. The multi-dimensional Jenkins provides some comedy relief. It’s not needed but does add a bit of spark to an already charming — but very dramatic — fantasy/horror story.
Then there’s the darkness of Shannon. The guy’s face screams, “I’m a bad guy. Don’t mess with me, I’m dangerous.” His character proves the statement and makes him this year’s best villain.
To date The Shape of Water is my second favorite film this year. It barely ranks below Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. If not the best movie, it is certainly the most original. But it’s done by Guillermo del Toro — who directs and co-writes with relatively unknown Vanessa Tailor — and as we remember from Pan’s Labyrinth and the Hellboy movies, few movie makers today are more creative.
Horror-fantasy done by del Toro is always unique. He has a flair for showing us how monsters don’t always come in hideous forms. Sometimes they wear uniforms or suits and ties, drive cars and have wives and families. Their cold smiles fail to hide cold, dark hearts.
While some of his clever creatures are monsters, many are not. Here instead of a killer you have a creature with a heart. Add to that a mute woman who cares deeply for him and it’s a formula for movie perfection.
All that leads to an impossible connection and an impossibly good movie.Unlike Creature from the Black Lagoon and horror movies of that ilk and the chop and slash and ghost story horror movies of today, The Shape of Water is deep and full, and has three-dimensions.
Don’t miss this one.
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Stars: Sally Hawkins, Octavia Spencer, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Michael Stuhlbarg, Doug Jones
Rated R for mature themes, nudity, language. This one is shaping up to be one of the year’s best movie hits and is certainly the year’s best horror movie. Well, that is if it really is a horror movie. Might be. Might not be. Definitely doesn’t matter. Give this one a 5 on the Average Joe Movie 0 to 5 scale.
5 to 4 1/2: Must see on the big screen.
4 to 3 1/2: Good film, see it if it’s your type of movie.
3 to 2 1/2: Wait until it comes out on DVD.
2 to 1: Don’t bother.
0:Speaks for itself.
Gary Wolcott has been a movie consultant for KXL since 2014. A lifelong fan of film, he’s been a film critic in radio, television and newspaper for 25-years. Wolcott catches a couple of hundred movies a year and he sees a great many of them so you don’t have to.
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