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The Shape of Water (TIFF Review)

The Shape of Water (TIFF Review)
09.14.2017by: Chris Bumbray
10 10

PLOT: A mute cleaning woman (Sally Hawkins) working the graveyard shift at a top secret government installation in the cold war era, befriends an imprisoned sea creature (Doug Jones) being experimented upon by an overzealous agent (Michael Shannon) and a mysterious doctor (Michael Stuhlbarg).

REVIEW: The mark of a great director, in my opinion, is when, after watching the film, it seems like no one else could have possibly made it. Such is the case with Guillermo del Toro’s THE SHAPE OF WATER, which is so thoroughly infused with his sensibility, that if feels like something he’s been building towards for years, and perfectly fuses all of his strengths as a director. Those strengths include his love of the weird or off-kilter, as well as his passion for cinema and compassion for the underdog - human or non.

Without a doubt, this ranks up there with PAN’S LABYRINTH as one of his masterpieces, and a significantly unique entry into his canon. Despite being a period film, its a deeply modern film, in that despite the fantastical elements, it never shies away from taboo, be it sexuality or violence, with frank doses of both, earning the R-rating but also signifying that del Toro’s trying to make something for grown-ups, something his fans will appreciate given how tame most fantasy is these days.

Sally Hawkins has a magnificent starring part as Eliza, who bears scars over her voice box, explaining her mute status. A lonely lady, but still upbeat with the joy of simply being alive, she spends her days tending to her older upstairs neighbor, played by Richard Jenkins, a commercial artist newly fired for being gay. When she stumbles upon Doug Jones’s tortured sea creature, her sense of empathy, rather than horror at his otherworldly appearance, leads to a strong connection being forged between the two, while her kind supervisor (Octavia Spencer) looks on in vague disapproval.

It all comes together as a thoroughly original love story/fable, that never quite goes down the path you think it will, spinning cold war intrigue into what becomes a sprawling tale full of excitement. Del Toro constantly surprises, with nods to classic musicals, including a full-on number, sprinkled in, complimented by stunning production design and a wonderful score by Alexandre Desplat.

While this is Hawkins’s show, the supporting cast is uniformly excellent, with many supporting nod potentials among the cast, including Spencer, who evokes deep humanity, Michael Shannon, who’s truly terrifying as a study in sadism, and best of all Jenkins - who seems a sure bet for some Oscar love.

THE SHAPE OF WATER really is a magnificent piece of film, and for all del Toro’s ambitions, which has led to him abandoning projects rather than doing compromised versions, you see here that he’s really at his best when he’s just allowed to do his own thing unencumbered. No one but him could have made a movie like this, and we should all be grateful he got the opportunity, as it’s an instant classic.

Extra Tidbit: THE SHAPE OF WATER opens in December

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