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Review: The Shape of Water

Guillermo del Toro is one of Hollywood’s most distinct and beloved directors, and while he has only made one truly great film (Pan’s Labyrinth), each film he directs is always left with his distinct mark. Del Toro’s latest film The Shape of Water is not only his best film yet, but possibly my favorite film of 2017.

The Shape of Water follows Elisa, a mute janitor who works in a top secret facility. She stumbles upon an aquatic creature, and the two begin to form a significant bond with one another.

Brought to life with precision and wide-eyed creativity, Del Toro’s creates a world that is lovely to explore. The 1960’s setting is a great representation of the era, setting our outcast group of characters in a society that mocks and abolishes them for their differences. Visually speaking, few can direct with the visual splendor that Del Toro captures, with every frame of this film being a sight to be seen.

The Shapes of Water is made with a lot of different inspirations in mind, as the film is a mix of 50’s genre filmmaking along with a fairy tale romance. In different hands, that balance could have been a disaster, but Del Toro and co-writer Vanessa Taylor make that balance work on the page. The narrative is engaging and unpredictable, and the balance between that and the nuanced characters make for an involving story.

Performance-wise, this film features some of the year’s finest performances. Sally Hawkins is mesmerizing as Elisa, portraying the character’s handicap while capturing her longing for love. It’s a warm performance, with Hawkins leaving me a smile thanks to her genuine charm. Richard Jenkins is also fantastic as Elisa’s neighbor and friend. Every scene the two share together is fantastic, with their chemistry being on point. When it comes to playing an intense villain, no one can compete with Michael Shannon, with his stoic persona hiding a raw and powerful anger. Octavia Spencer and Michael Stuhlbarg are also quite good as well.

At its core, The Shapes of Water moved me deeply with its romance. Many could mock Elisa’s relationship with the aquatic creature based on premise, but Del Toro brings the concept to life with loving and beautiful imagery. Even without these characters having dialogue, their connection is deep and meaningful, and the different ways Del Toro brings that to life are memorably moving.

The Shape of Water is filmmaking at its most inspired, acting as both an earnest throwback to old-school filmmaking as well as a deeply moving love story. I can not recommend this film enough, and will bestow it with the highest of honors.

Grade: A+

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