It’s a different species of creature feature.
With “The Shape of Water,” director Guillermo Del Toro plumbs emotional depths not usually reached in a such a genre film.
But the truth is, monster or not, this is a movie that leans more towards romantic drama than horror.
Sally Hawkins is a lonely janitor who finds herself in an out-of-this-world romance.
(Photo Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures. )
In 1962, Elisa (Sally Hawkins), a mute woman, lives a lonely existence as janitor in a top-secret government facility. Her life is upended when a tank is brought in to the lab containing an amphibian (Doug Jones) fished out of some black lagoon in South America.
The security chief and a Russian spy regard the discovery as a potential weapon to tip the balance of the Cold War. Elisa just sees a kindred spirit.
Michael Shannon and Michael Stuhlbarg confront a strange discovery in the latest film by Guillermo Del Toro.
(Photo by Kerry Hayes)
Given a crowded field of competition this year, it’s most likely that “Shape of the Water” floats in the shallow end of the award season pool.
But it still marks Del Toro’s strongest work since “Pan’s Labyrinth” 11 years ago. It is an homage to classic cinema, albeit a slightly quirky one.
Octavia Spencer and Sally Hawkins, second and third from left, lean on each other in “The Shape of Water.”
(Photo by Kerry Hayes)
Much of the movie’s strength lies in a cast that elevates a B-movie premise into an A-minus film. Hawkins is her typical brilliant self in a role that’s not typical for the British actress. As Elisa’s best friend and co-worker, Octavia Spencer lends acerbic wit and pathos.
Richard Jenkins shines as a next-door neighbor, an artist who shies away from leaving his apartment — or more specifically the closet. Michael Shannon may be all cartoonish menace, but his security chief Strickland doesn’t feel far removed from the federal agent he played on “Boardwalk Empire.”
And under all that rubber and slime, 6-foot-4 actor Jones continues to impress as the go-to monster for Del Toro and the rest of Hollywood. He’s as synonymous with practical effects as Andy Serkis is with performance capture.
With all the promise that he’s shown over the years, Del Toro should have been at the Oscar podium as many times as his Mexican director contemporaries Alejandro Inarritu (“Birdman”) and Alfonso Cuaron (“Gravity”) by now. If “The Shape of Water” is an indication, he still has that potential in him.