The Shape of Water Review

July 05, 2018
Today's post is another of the JustALittleBitOfJosh series. After he enjoyed writing about 5 of the best films you might have missed in 2017, he is back today writing a The Shape Of Water review...



The Shape of Water is Del Toro’s first film directing exploit since 2015’s Crimson Peak but is much better known for Pacific Rim, the Hellboy series and Pan’s Labyrinth. He’s no stranger to the unconventional as his fans of the latter will remember. Whilst The Shape of Water is obviously different, it still features many of the same techniques which made Pan’s Labyrinth a massive success, a gripping story line; an unnatural world; an unlikely protagonist; an evocative soundtrack and sparing but gruesome violence.  

However, for me, there are two elements that really make this film and then the rest is just gravy. Firstly, the depth of this incredible storyline keeps it somewhat believable despite how unrealistic it truly is. In the background of this terrific love story between a mute and a merman is a fragrance of the key issues of the 1960s – the cold war and space race. The need of the Americans or Soviet spies to be on top and find out as much as they can about this beautiful creature before disposing of it by any means necessary is a constant underlying motif throughout and adds a real depth by not only helping to help set the time for the piece but also adding different character dynamics and pathways for the story to venture which otherwise wouldn’t have been possible. The film to me also stresses an underlying importance of relationships – there is a beautiful array on show whether it be the blossoming of a new love, the loyalty of long friendships and how they pull through (or not in one case), the hatred of opposition and the depths that will be gone to be rid of them or just simply how you will act if society treats you poorly for something you cannot control. The film mirrors a lot of these types of relationships and the outcomes differ depending on the situation, persuading the audience to connect with the film on a more personal level by comparison with their real-life experiences.

The second is Sally Hawkin’s portrayal of Elisa Esposito. At the start of the film Elisa has a wonderful purity and innocence, the regimented daily routines, need to be interpreted for and occasional naivety all adding to this climaxing with a somewhat childish giggle - or what I’d assume sounds like one if you could hear it when you see that enormous grin. Elisa’s encounters with the Amphibian man (Doug Jones, a frequent of odd monsters) are cautious and unnerving as she’s quite naturally afraid, however as she grows to learn that they both are not listened to but can simultaneously speak and understand each other better than anyone previously in their lives. This is the key to Elisa’s character development, finally having someone who knows it it’s like to be her empowers her, it gives her something to cling to finally and a reason to change her ways as well as to start sticking up for what she believes in. Hawkins shows all of this brilliantly, according to reports she had a key role in developing her own character, in fact, she wrote stories on ‘The woman who didn’t know she was a mermaid’ that Del Toro took inspiration from, hardly surprising she does such a wonderful job at it.

However this film is not just about Hawkins, its ensemble does a terrific job to shell out this story in particular to show the prejudice shown in society at the time. Giles (Richard Jenkins) and Zelda Fuller (Octavia Spencer) both face this relentless abuse due to being gay and black, respectively whilst Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon) shows us the opposite side of a ruthless government official who has no time for people he doesn’t see on his level. The interactions of each make for a bit of everything - comedy, warmth, despair, anger and violence - there’s something for everyone and adds a great variety to the story. Moreover, the film does a superb job at giving us enough time to become invested (or start to dislike them in the case of Strickland) in these characters making the payoff that much more satisfying.

Finally, it must be said that the soundtrack to this masterpiece is incredible - its main themes describe the characters beautifully and overall feel keeps the feel of ‘water’ throughout. Initially we’re greeted with a reverberating muffled harp quite excellently accompanied by a glass harp just to set this watery scene before the long sweeping phrases of stepwise movement give a feel of flowing water - this initial piece also introduces us to a lovely warm motif reminiscent of romantic French music by using an accordion as the lead. This is a nice gentle easing into the main love story and is heard numerous times during the film at key points between Elisa and the Amphibian Man. The feeling of water is also heard through short staccato motifs, pedal notes or runs to emulate raindrops which can be heard in strings, flutes but is particularly effective when heard on the glockenspiel and xylophone. Elisa’s theme evokes her wonderfully, a playful little tune that flows with the flutes and accordion as a throwback to the opening, but every time it reaches its climax, it starts again with a slight twist. This is just like her development, still the initial joyful character we meet at the start of the film with her routines but as she learns more she starts to unravel and show us more. This theme is seen again in ‘Elisa and Zelda’ where it can be seen in call and response with a new theme describing Zelda almost evoking how they come in always come in a pair - I absolutely love how this piece starts with Elisa’s accordion and ends with someone whistling this back as if Zelda is repeating what Elisa says for her just like how she translates for Elisa in the film. A particular point of interest for me was that when the amphibian man is first brought in to the government facility by Strickland we hear a very dark and sinister semitonal motif from ‘The Creature’. This same motif is then used to describe Strickland later on suggesting that he was actually The Creature and the monster in the quote I used in the first paragraph of this review and not the Amphibian Man himself - it’s little gems like this which make diving deep into details of a film really worth it.

If there is one gripe I have with the film it is with the dream sequence in which Elisa starts singing ‘You’ll Never Know’ the Amphibian man. Whilst I do appreciate the sentiment Elisa has finding someone she can truly speak to which she has never had in the whole of her life, it felt a little over the top for me though it was very poignant and thought-provoking.

Despite this 'The Sound of Water' is not only a visual masterpiece but a sensual one. There is no wonder why it had so many nominations and wins at the Academy Awards (Best Achievement in directing; Best Motion Picture; Best Achievement in Music written for Motion Pictures; Best Achievement in Production Design). Del Toro has done it again, creating a oddly realistic unrealistic story become an instant classic.


Have you seen The Shape of Water? What were your thoughts on it? Let me know below!



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