Director: Guillermo del Toro
Nominated for: Best Picture; Best Actress; Best Supporting Actress; Best Supporting Actor; Best Director; Best Original Screenplay; Best Editing; Best Original Score; Best Sound Mixing; Best Sound Editing; Best Costume; Best Cinematography; Best Production Design
I can kind of take Guillermo del Toro’s movies with a pinch of salt – sometimes I really enjoy them (like with Hellboy, 2004) and at other times they’re all just a bit too weird for me (Pan’s Labyrinth, 2006). I find him a director who is sometimes unwilling to sacrifice his own personal style for the best of the film (the best thing to happen to The Hobbit movies was del Toro pulling out of the project because clockwork mechanisms just doesn’t fit in with that world!) so colour me surprised when I realised that there were no clockwork mechanisms within The Shape of Water.
It’s a beautiful colour palette – very much made up of blues and greens as a visual representation of the natural environment for the Amphibian Man. I also loved the blend of art deco and 1950s Americana. The makeup for Amphibian Man is stunning – he is oddly beautiful and he’s once again brought to life expertly by Doug Jones, an actor who has made a career out of bringing wonderful curiosities to life. I did wonder whether there was some connection to another amphibious man who Jones has also had a hand in creating – Abe Sapien from Hellboy – but I can’t work out how the timings would work and there’s such a difference in their ability to communicate. However it wouldn’t surprise me if it turned out there was some sort of connection between the two worlds – it feels like a very del Toro thing to do.
The cast is excellent. Richard Jenkins is delightful as Eliza’s neighbour, Giles. There’s something rather melancholy about him but that just makes him all the more endearing. Michael Shannon, as Richard Strickland, is detestable – he’s everything that is wrong with humanity. He has no empathy for anyone, let alone something as incredible as Amphibian Man – and seems to delight in causing hurt and harm to him. You get to watch him deteriorate, both body and mind throughout the film – and kind of enjoy it as he’s not a character that engenders sympathy. Indeed, in a turn of events it is the Soviet scientist who comes across as the more humane person in this situation. It’s a complete switch in characteristics associated with certain types of nationalities – the Russians are so often the bad guys in Hollywood fare and given the time The Shape of Water is set in you would very much expect this to be the case. I much preferred Michael Stuhlbarg’s scientist and identified much more with him than Shannon’s character.
Octavia Spencer is once again spectacular as Eliza’s best friend, Zelda. She showcases her comedic timing with some seriously sassy one liners delivered at just the first time. I love watching her in pretty much everything she does. There is a warmth to her which combines with a fierce protectiveness that results in a formidable woman – made all the more impressive given the setting of the film (1950s America was not a pleasant place for women from a certain background). Sally Hawkins is stunning as Eliza. I didn’t realise that Eliza is mute and therefore only communicates through ASL which only served to enhance the beauty of her portrayal. She shows that you don’t need to rely on speech in order to be able to communicate effectively which I think is a wonderful thing. She’s so compassionate and looks beyond the standard external trappings to see the person beneath it. She conveys so much without saying a single word which is remarkable. Many of her scenes are very touching and moving. And she’s a pretty good tap dancer too – who knew?!
There were some things that I did feel were not entirely necessary. The relationship between Eliza and Amphibian Man is beautiful but then it became a physical one which I’m not entirely sure needed to be the case. It made the film slightly uncomfortable for me and pulled me out of the story for a moment which is not the sort of thing you want when you watch movies. And then there were some moments when the violence was far too gratuitous and definitely not warranted in terms of driving the narrative forward. I’m thinking about a scene in particular where Stuhlbarg’s character is hooked through the bullet hole in his cheek and dragged to another location – there was just no need for it!
I wouldn’t be surprised if this did do very well come the actual ceremony and while it is a wonderful film I think there are some other films I have watched for this year’s Oscars that are better suited to showcasing some of the elements this film has been nominated for – and I believe they could be overlooked in favour of this one.