When you hear the name Guillermo del Toro, images of fantastical beings and exceptional landscapes may immediately enter your mind. The director is known for his unique visual style that awakens the inner gothic #horror lover in you with such works as The Devil's Backbone, Crimson Peak and my personal favorite, Pan's Labyrinth. Although he also tackles big-budget pictures like Hellboy and Pacific Rim, his heart seemingly remains in the realm of what he excels in with his upcoming film, The Shape Of Water.
The film stars Sally Hawkins, Doug Jones, Michael Shannon and Octavia Spencer and is set against the backdrop of the Cold War era circa 1963. In the hidden high-security government laboratory where she works, the mute and lonely Elisa (Hawkins) is trapped in a life of silence and isolation. Elisa's life is changed forever when she and co-worker Zelda (Spencer) discover a secret classified experiment.
Del Toro recently took to twitter to boast the superb 100% rating that the film currently holds on Rotten Tomatoes. The then-17 reviews gave an average rating of 9/10 and has since added an additional 4 reviews with the average rating now at an impressive 8.8/10.
— Guillermo del Toro (@RealGDT) September 2, 2017
As all fans will know, a film shouldn't be judged purely on a percentage – particularly when there have been a number of detailed reviews released. So, let's take a look what the critics have to say about The Shape of Water.
What The Critics Are Saying:
With a few months left until its wide release, critics are praising the film for its "extraordinary visual imagination" and "deeply satisfying filmmaking." The following are a few excerpts from outlets that have already had a chance to check out the film at the Venice and Telluride Film Festival:
Zacharek praises the film for the enthralling performances by its two leads, Hawkins and Jones. Although there are occasional "[descents] into cartoonishly banal views of the evil of mankind," she believes there is enough "magic and extraordinary visual imagination to smooth the edges of the movie’s problems":
"The Shape of Water opens with a gorgeous underwater reverie, complete with a floating, sleeping princess, that sets the tone for what we’re about to see. Its final image suggests total weightlessness and joy. The script, written by Del Toro and Vanessa Taylor, from a story by Del Toro, riffs on Hans Christian Andersen’s "Little Mermaid" and Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve’s Beauty and the Beast, but it has its own distinctive soul."
While Bleasdale adored the progression of its story, he ultimately believed the spark between Elise and the monster was lacking:
"It's difficult to view this as an actual relationship... [Their] rapport seems more at the service of an idea than a genuine affection."
Despite this issue, he ultimately refers to the film as "deeply satisfying filmmaking at its best" and commends del Toro for creating such "lusciously beautiful" works:
"His movies have such a rich texture it's a temptation not to run your hand over the decorated velvet of the screen. The colours are as deep as an illuminated manuscript and the stories themselves intricate cabinets of wonder and surprise. Dan Laustsen's cinematography as well as the production design and art direction by Paul Austerberry and Nigel Churcher all deserve top billing here. With The Shape of Water, we are taken back to a sumptuously recreated Cold War period. In a secret government research facility, a creature (Doug Jones) - "The Asset" - has been brought in for study, torture and ultimately destruction."
Lodge lauds the "extraordinary" lead, Sally Hawkins, for her portrayal of Elisa:
"Credit the marvelous Hawkins, her fine-featured but robustly expressive face in constant emotional motion, for making us believe as swiftly and as easily as we do that Elisa and the creature are made for each other."
He commends del Toro for his ability to toe the line between the film’s reality and its "most heightened flights of fairytale fancy." It's truly encouraging to see an adult love story with fantasy themes seemingly executed so well:
"This decidedly adult fairytale, about a forlorn, mute cleaning lady and the uncanny merman who save each other’s lives in very different ways, careers wildly from mad-scientist B-movie to heart-thumping Cold War noir to ecstatic, wings-on-heels musical, keeping an unexpectedly classical love story afloat with every dizzy genre turn. Lit from within by a heart-clutching silent star turn from Sally Hawkins, lent dialogue by one of Alexandre Desplat’s most abundantly swirling scores, this is incontestably del Toro’s most rewarding, richly realized film — or movie, for that matter — since 2006’s “Pan’s Labyrinth."
"A Welcome Embrace From Audiences Starved For Imaginative Escape."
THR's David Rooney praises del Toro for his "dark-edged fairy tale" that is "lovingly steeped in vintage movie magic as it is in hypnotic water imagery." He promises audiences starving for an "imaginative escape" at the theater "a visually and emotionally ravishing fantasy," which satisfies the requirements for its target audience:
"... [The] crucial developments of the story concern the rare understanding and physical attraction that spark between Elisa and the creature, starting with the gift of a boiled egg and continuing with the language of music from a portable stereo. She says he sees her for who she really is, as a complete person, which gets Giles and eventually Zelda on board to help as the conflicting agendas of Strickland and Hoffstetler threaten the creature's survival."
"Del Toro and editor Sidney Wolinsky allow the pace to dip a little before the suspenseful late-action crescendo. But the film's refusal to treat the woman-humanoid relationship as anything less than a classic, swoon-worthy love story, albeit one explored entirely without conventional dialogue, means our rooting interest in the central dynamic is never in doubt. A lesser filmmaker might have rendered all this as simply a gender-flipped Splash, but del Toro's attention to nuance makes it an utterly transporting fable with very real stakes and convincing political overtones."
TheWrap's lead critic reveals the film's "elements of Beauty and the Beast, E.T., Amélie and The Creature from the Black Lagoon," lauding del Toro's unique ability to take "the stories and the images that formed him and [crafting] them into something utterly his own."
Duralde shares a similar sentiment to a majority of critics regarding Hawkins' performance, stating that she "communicates so much without speaking" - a rare talent not many performers are able to boast about.
"The film tells a color story, from the lab’s New Look green to an awakened Elisa’s red high-heel shoes, but there are no rose-colored glasses in place: TV news shows civil rights protesters being blasted with fire hoses, lunch counters turn away black patrons, and Giles rightly notes that he was born too early or too late to lead his life as a gay man in this country."
The film was even described as "God-Like filmmaking" by Collider's Brian Formo, a pretty impressive commendation for the veteran director. Del Toro's ability to depict moments of hopefulness during a time of struggle is an aspect of the film Formo enjoyed the most.
"The Shape of Water not only entertains as a sumptuous fairytale, but it reinforces a faith in humanity set in a time where tolerance of other races, nationalities, and non-“family values” love was volatile..."
"Like Pan’s Labyrinth, del Toro has a fairytale that could have been for adults and children alike but he chooses to infuse grisly violence and occasional body horror. While that was a little jarring for me with Labyrinth, it fits perfectly in The Shape of Water, because societal violence is all around these characters due to race, homophobia, and fear of one nation getting ahead of the other. This threat of violence by all the characters that band together is felt more than it’s spoken. And so often is the feeling of love."
A perfect score of 5/5 was given to The Shape of Water courtesy of the Evening Standard's lead critic, David Sexton. He describes the opening sequence with detail and refers to the film as del Toro's "most touching fantasy yet."
"The Shape of Water, in love with '50s melodrama, song and dance, is dramatically shot and lit, richly furnished and colored, in del Toro's trademark style, oddly fusty as well as rapturously fantastical. Beauty has never embraced the beast more enthusiastically. A treat if you believe in fairy-tales. Someone for everyone, isn't there?"
There seems to be an overwhelming consensus that The Shape Of Water is Guillermo del Toro at his finest. He manages to make the combination of reality and fantastical elements in an unconventional love story set during the Cold War seemingly effortless. With many praising Sally Hawkins' portrayal of a character who remains mute throughout the film, she masterfully relies on her abilities as an actor to evoke as much emotion as she can without saying a word. With this in mind, The Shape Of Water is definitely securing its spot as one of the must-see movies this year.
The Shape Of Water premieres at this year's Toronto International Film Festival on September 11th and releases worldwide on December 8th, 2017.