"del Toro shows once more how fantasy and fairy tales are a really efficient and effective method to send a message as important as feeling accepted and loved no matter the differences"
Another classic Del Toro movie, The Shape of Water is a fantasy drama that in the most eccentric way shines a light on diversity and being accepted for who you really are. Set in America during the Cold War, the story follows Eliza, a mute cleaning lady who works in a government facility.
Eliza’s life is pretty simple, she lives alone, she takes care of her friend Giles, who lives next door, and at night she goes to work with Zelda. Day in and day out, everything is the same in a constant routine until, at work, a water creature is brought in to be studied in a classified experiment.
As a director Guillermo del Toro knows how to bring to the screen a simple story and make it fantastic with a touch of weird. From the beginning his style is unmistakable and the audience already knows that it’s not going to be an ordinary story. Water is at the centre of everything. The first scene is Eliza’s room completely submerged in water and the peace and quite of the first moment is replicated at the end, when the element surrounds the protagonist again.
However, it wouldn’t be del Toro if every now and then a limb didn't get severed or blood gets spilled in a violent way, mixing the fantastic aspect of the movie with a touch of gothic/horror. Since the director loves to surprise his audience, after showing Eliza’s routine, it deep dives into the supernatural and the movie’s monster is revealed almost immediately. The sea creatures that will change Eliza’s life forever reminds one of the many monsters designed in old horror films. However, behind the terrifying exterior, like in every del Toro creation, there is hidden a sensitive creature who only wants to feel understood and loved.
The way in which he moves and learns how to interact with Eliza and protect her is heartbreaking and emotional. Their relationship, made out of acceptance, slowly blossoms because they both look beyond what is in front of their eyes.
The cast ensemble embraces the fairy tale completely, Sally Hawkins gives her best performance as Eliza; without saying a single word she projects all her emotions and sense of loneliness. The instant wonder and curiosity that she feels for the sea creature is immediately clear from her facial expressions. Her hands becomes her way to communicate and they convey her emotions clearly.
Along with Hawkins, Octavia Spencer and Richard Jenkins carry the film on their shoulders and their characters are the ones who provide the comic relief in the story. Both Zelda and Giles love Eliza so deeply and they want to protect her from everything. Their acceptance is so honest that they are ready to put themselves in danger to help her in her crazy mission. They understand the motive behind her desire to save her sea monster and they just want to see her truly happy.
Just like Eliza, they are both considered out of the "ordinary people" category and, just like her, they are judged and underestimated because of their colour and sexual orientation. Michael Shannon is the perfect bad guy, his Strickland, the agent in charge of supervising and torturing the experiment, is obsessed with perfection. He embodies the society that ostracises everyone who is out of the ordinary and Shannon plays the part of the bully perfectly until the end.
With The Shape of Water, Guillermo del Toro shows once more how fantasy and fairy tales are a really efficient and effective method to send a message as important as feeling accepted and loved no matter the differences.