The Shape of Water

Year: 2018
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Starring: Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Octavia Spencer, Richard Jenkins, Michael Stuhlbarg, Doug Jones

Written by Sarah Buddery

It is hard to believe that over 11 years have passed since arguably Guillermo del Toro’s finest work, ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’. Considered by many as his magnum opus, his films have been varying in quality since, although never not magnificent to look at. Supposedly the only film the visionary director has been 100% happy with, ‘The Shape of Water’ is possibly the only other del Toro film to rival the masterpiece status of ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’, and that is not something which should be said lightly.

Back in familiar territory of dark, gothic fairy tales, ‘The Shape of Water’ is an absolute masterstroke, full of fantasy, wonder, gorgeous visuals, and a subtle nod in the direction of influential old Hollywood movies. This does put it into the category of films the Academy will unquestionably fawn over, but it is impossible not to fall in love with this film. ‘Pan’s’ was beautiful and twisted tragedy, whereas ‘The Shape of Water’ is beautiful and twisted romance, and it is completely stunning.

Eliza Esposito (Sally Hawkins) plays a mute woman, obsessed with routine, she works nights at a government facility. Whilst she has strong friendships with her co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer), and her neighbour Giles (Richard Jenkins), her disability prevents her from forging meaningful connections with the people she comes into contact with. That is until she happens across an amphibious creature which is being held at the facility she works at for testing. Somehow able to develop an unexplainable bond to this creature, they connect through basic communication and a mutual understanding.

To spoil much more of the story than mentioned above would be a crime, and this is one of those films which is good to go into as blind as possible; although its festival buzz may be hard to silence! The relationship between Eliza and the creature goes to wonderful and incredibly unexpected places, and despite being fantastical in nature, it never feels anything less than completely and utterly genuine. To watch this relationship develop is simply mesmerising, and Sally Hawkins gives a performance which is breathtaking. To be able to communicate so passionately and with the range that she does, without words, is a monumental achievement, and if you were yet to make your mind up about Best Actress Oscar prospects, it might just be worth putting some money on Hawkins right now.

The supporting cast, particularly Octavia Spencer and Michael Shannon, are also perfectly matched to their characters. Spencer provides some welcome light relief, and fresh from her acclaimed supporting role in ‘Hidden Figures’, she continues to be a dependable and consistently watchable actress. Whilst normally the best thing about any film he is in, Michael Shannon does play second fiddle to Hawkins’ incredible lead performance, but he excels at playing the genuinely menacing and detestable villain. He’s not quite up there with the abhorrent Captain Vidal from ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ – few people are – but he is on fine form and gives an incredibly memorable performance.

Whilst on the whole it is a thing of beauty, it equally never shies away from some truly horrifying moments, and there’s a couple of genuinely shocking, gory scenes, just in case you’d forgotten you were watching a del Toro film! Initially this may not seem in keeping with the rest of the film, but it works so perfectly, and gives it an edge which helps it to truly stand out.

Put simply, ‘The Shape of Water’ is utterly magical in every sense of the word, and “more” than what you could wish for in all conceivable ways. It is more than a love story, more than a fantasy, more than a story, and more than a film; it is a transcendental masterpiece, and one which words can hardly do justice. With incredible performances, absolutely stunning visuals (special nod to the underwater scenes which are totally breathtaking), masterful direction, and a unique and memorable story, ‘The Shape of Water’ deserves to be looked back on with the same fondness and reverence that ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ is. A modern masterpiece, and a truly spectacular film.

Sarah’s Rating: 10/10

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Watch This Space: November 16 – 22

Welcome to your weekly go-to film guide – WatchThisSpace – where we recommend what to watch in the cinema and on the television, and remind you of those brilliant films hiding in your DVD collection.

IN THE CINEMA

Out this week is the final installment of ‘The Hunger Games’ franchise, with ‘Mockingjay Part Two’. The film will see the civil war of Panem reach its climax, as Katniss Everdeen (played by the perfectly cast Jennifer Lawrence) leads a group of rebels to the Capitol to assassinate President Snow. It’s also worth mentioning that this is the last film of the exceptional Philip Seymour Hoffman, after tragically passing away last year. The franchise finale is set to be a box-office smash, and for fans of the series this is definitely one to watch.

ON TV

Monday 22:45 GMT: Had a tough Monday? Unwind with the simple but brilliant comedy ‘Meet The Parents’ on BBC1. Easy-watching doesn’t come much easier than this, with slapstick humour aplenty from Ben Stiller and Robert De Niro.

Tuesday 19:00 GMT: Okay so it might feel too early to get into the Christmas spirit, but Film4 certainly think it’s time. Watch the classic story of Ebeneezer Scrooge, in the modern adaptation ‘Scrooged’, starring Bill Murray as the main miser.

Thursday 21:00 GMT: Have an excellent Thursday with the weird and wonderful adventures of ‘Wayne’s World’ on 5*. Check out our review if you need any more persuading. Alternatively, newbies to ‘The Hunger Games’ franchise can see where it all began on Film4.

Friday 23:35 GMT: Loosely based on true events, ‘Badlands’ is all about James Dean lookalike Kit, played by Martin Sheen, and the much younger lady he falls in love with, as they embark on an unfortunate road trip through the South Dakota badlands. Filled with violence and murder, this fantastic Bonnie-and-Clyde-esque film makes BBC2 the place to be this Friday.

Saturday 21:45 GMT: With an outstanding ensemble female cast, including Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Jessica Chastain, Bryce Dallas Howard and Octavia Spencer, ‘The Help’ is one of those films that everybody should see at least once. Luckily, BBC2 are on hand to deliver a movie which will make you laugh and break your heart in equal measure.

DIG IT OUT

This is our favourite part of the WatchThisSpace section. We delve into our own DVD collection and pick out some amazing films, that may not instantly spring to mind when you’re stuck for inspiration to make your movie night a success. Maybe you’ve never seen a film that we pick – or even heard of them for that matter – but you’re gonna have to trust us on this one, and Dig It Out.

The Artist: How can you describe one of the best movie experiences of one’s life?  How can you make a black and white, silent movie set in 1927 (but made in 2011) sound appealing? Would a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 97% swing it? How about the exemplary French and American cast, including Jean Dujardin and John Goodman? Maybe the quirky plot piques your interest, as silent movie star George and young dancer Peppy’s lives drastically change as the pioneering ‘talking pictures’ take over Hollywood. Reams and reams could be said on behalf of this modern film which says nothing at all, but truth be told, seeing is believing. Beautiful, uplifting and inspired by simpler times, this is one you should definitely seek out.

Mean Streets: It’s Mr Martin Scorsese’s birthday this Tuesday, and whilst this man should be celebrated on a daily basis, now would be as good a time as any. Last week, our Twitter debates focused on the legendary director, with ‘Goodfellas’ crowned his finest work. One film which didn’t feature in the discussions was ‘Mean Streets’. This beautifully crafted crime movie is one of Scorsese’s earlier works, but with the familiar faces of Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel in leading roles, its appeal still resonates with today’s audience. Fans of Marty, and the crime genre as a whole, should check this out as a priority.

The Nightmare Before Christmas: It’s not quite the most wonderful time of the year, but the spookiest time of year has officially passed. What better film to settle you in for the transition between holidays than Tim Burton’s classic stop-motion film about Jack, the Pumpkin King of Halloweentown, as he decides to take over Christmas for one year. With a catchy soundtrack by Danny Elfman, a love story between Jack and Sally, the rag doll, and a heart-warming conclusion, this is the perfect film to watch now those darker nights are settling in.

A Scanner Darkly: Based on the novel by Philip K. Dick, this surreal, futuristic film is interesting for many reasons. First of all, the whole thing is shot in a quirky, animated style which gives it a strangely fun feel, which is cleverly contrasted against a narrative focusing on identity, law, surveillance and drug use. Starring Keanu Reeves, Winona Ryder, Woody Harrelson and a brilliant performance from Robert Downey Jr, as well as being directed by Richard Linklater (Boyhood), this crazy film is executed brilliantly. ‘A Scanner Darkly’ has achieved something of a cult status since its release in 2006, and now is the time for you to find out why.

This week’s WatchThisSpace was compiled by Sasha Hornby and Jakob Lewis Barnes