London Film Festival Review: The Shape of Water

Nobody quite does fantasy like the esteemed director Guillermo Del Toro, I mean just look at the masterpiece that is Pan’s Labyrinth. His latest fantastical and moving picture is none other than hot Oscar favourite The Shape of Water, and it’s clear to see why it’s been the film on everyone’s lips following its limited festival screenings.

A beautiful escape from the horrors of the world

Del Toro is the master of transporting films with a bleak backdrop and turning them into something beautiful, and this is one of the key elements that The Shape of Water truly thrives on. Set in Cold War era Baltimore, the steampunkesque buildings look marvellous and the cinematography is accompanied by a fantastic score that feels as if it should be set in wartime Paris or another equally beautiful city, rendering the film an audiovisual dream.

Where the technical aspects succeed, the beautiful and uplifting story surpass those achievements further. The film follows Eliza (Sally Hawkins), a mute cleaner who works in an underground government laboratory where all sorts of secret experiments take place. When she discovers a half human/half fish creature being held captive in the lab, she finds herself drawn to it and soon becomes friendly with the initially terrifying creature. The only issue with this film is the pace in which their friendship blossoms, after one brief encounter they suddenly are inseparable which felt somewhat rushed and unnecessary, as allowing for development would have made their relationship even more beautiful. The script is so wonderfully original and finds itself taking the viewer on such a rollercoaster of emotions it’s hard to keep up. From sublime humour to hope to sadness and to triumph, it’s easily one of the best scripts of the year and Del Toro’s added use of violence is a welcome addition. A truly well rounded story despite a slight pacing issue.

Performances as fantastical as the story

When telling a story so moving and uplifting, the cast are always going to make or break the film, so it was crucial that Del Toro cast the right talent in the right parts and my word he has more than succeeded here. Sally Hawkins gives one of the decade’s most astonishing performances as the mute Eliza, using only sign language and facial expressions to portray every human emotion and to make a character impossible not to resonate with, making her easily the front runner for Best Actress, with a nomination surely a formality. It’s rare to find a script that moves so easily where the main character never says anything, but Hawkins utilised her copious amount of talent to be truly affecting, and establishing herself amongst the rank of giants with such a performance.

Furthermore, this film has one of the best supporting casts of the year and it wouldn’t shock me to see further acting nominations with the talent on show. Richard Jenkins commands the screen with his sublime performance as Eliza’s best friend Giles, being both hilarious and moving with such ease and providing many of the film’s truly funny moments including donning a wig to flirt with a waiter at a pie shop, which is an utter delight to watch. The ever brilliant Octavia Spencer graces the film with her presence as Eliza’s friend and co-worker Zelda, being as humorous as ever with a touching amount of fierce loyalty to her friend in another great supporting performance. Last but not least is the mercurial Michael Shannon, who as the the film’s villain government Agent Strickland, is a funny but detestable bastard who the viewer loves to hate, a nod to the natural ability of a great actor who portrays an excellently written character. Truly this film is riddled with wonderful performances across the board and could deservedly have a whole host of Oscar nominations on its hands, with Sally Hawkins surely a front runner.

The Verdict

Undoubtedly a masterpiece and his best work since Pan’s Labyrinth, Del Toro surely has a Best Picture and Best Director nomination on his hands with The Shape of Water. The story is so beautifully moving, the sound and sights astonishing and the acting just utterly sublime. Despite a slight pacing issue, there’s no way that this film can receive anything less than full marks, a real highlight of LFF and a must watch film for sure.

Rating: 10/10

Words by Elliott Jones

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