Like many fairy tales, “The Shape of Water” is a fantastical story about a lonely person who finds fulfillment through interaction with a magical creature. Unlike most fairy tales, “The Shape of Water” lets its sex, violence, and cruelty fall out casually, no sugarcoating. You’re being charmed by the “Amelie”-like musical score and the whimsical characters when oh, hey, there’s Michael Shannon being very gross while having relations with his wife.
Anyone who saw “Pan’s Labyrinth” won’t be surprised to learn that its maker, the mischievous Mexican maestro Guillermo del Toro, is also behind “The Shape of Water” (sharing screenplay credit with Vanessa Taylor), his 10th feature and approximately the 10th to have macabre, gothic themes, beautiful imagery, and a dark sense of humor.
And yes, it’s about a woman who befriends a fish-man.
The woman is Elisa (Sally Hawkins), mute since birth (or thereabouts) but able to hear, sign, and love. She lives above a Baltimore movie theater in 1962, across the hall from Giles (Richard Jenkins), an older, gay freelance commercial illustrator whose loneliness mirrors hers. (Just about everyone in this story is lonely.) They watch old musicals on TV and tap along with the dancing, almost like a father and daughter.
Elisa, who dreams of watery adventures and was found near a river as an orphan baby, works on the overnight cleaning crew at a government research facility alongside Zelda (Octavia Spencer), a chatterbox who, like Giles, is fluent in understanding Elisa’s sign language. Elisa and Zelda are on the clock when a new “asset” arrives accompanied by one Mr. Strickland (Michael Shannon), the government functionary who found it and brought it here from South America. The asset is an amphibious man-like creature (played by Doug Jones) with sharp teeth and claws, kept chained in a tank so he can be studied and eventually dissected.
[Continue reading at Crooked Marquee.]
A- (2 hrs., 3 min.; )