THE SHAPE OF WATER is a Del Toro Visual Water World

Fresh off winning more awards than you can poke a stick at, including 54 Award wins and 168 nominations (Best Director and Best Score at the Golden Globes yesterday and nominations for 12 BAFTAS!!), I was incredibly excited to check out THE SHAPE OF WATER last night. It is releasing in Australia this Thursday 11th January from 20th Century Fox. It is rated M and runs for 123mins.


The Shape of Water Sally Hawkins and Octavia Spencer image
Sally Hawkins and Octavia Spencer




THE SHAPE OF WATER is an otherworldly fairy tale, set against the backdrop of Cold War era America, circa 1963. In the hidden high-security government laboratory where she works, lonely Elisa (Sally Hawkins) is trapped in a life of silence and isolation. Elisa’s life is changed forever when she and co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer) discover a secret classified experiment.


The Shape of Water Sally Hawkins and the Creature image
Sally Hawkins and the Creature



Guillermo Del Toro is one of my film gods. A mind steeped in fantasy that belongs in an elite club with Tim Burton, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, and Andrei Tarkovsky. His fantasy mind is a world I want to live in. Always slightly macabre and a little twisted with romanticism and heart at its centre. Again he has created a visual splendour of a movie. THE SHAPE OF WATER is so beautiful to look at. The sets are so wonderful even Octavia Spencer asked Guillermo how much of it she could take.

The theme of water is heavy in THE SHAPE OF WATER – it is everywhere and will make its way into every scene. I think this is Guillermo’s universe for the movie, a water world in the real world. From eggs boiling, to rain, to regular bathtub masturbation to filling entire rooms with water – it is there to permeate into your very fibre.

Besides the beauty of the movie the story and concept is superb and it fits the steampunk gothic nature of Guillermo’s films but it generally falls flat after this sadly. OK – excluding the actors – they are next level, but more on that later.

Lots of the movie just didn’t gel into the rest of it. The use of old movies, while something I adore, and the toe tapping of Richard Jenkins and Sally Hawkins had me internally clapping, just didn’t hold much purpose. Nor did the fact Elisa lived above a cinema. The movie HUGO more than connected the romanticism of old school movies into something that still melts my heart but I just didn’t buy it from THE SOUND OF WATER.


The Shape of Water Doug Jones as The Amphibian Man image
Doug Jones as The Amphibian Man



There is also a lot going on in the movie. You have a beastly man who basically wants to torture the Amphibian Man but his motives are two dimensional or non-existent. Is it just a racial kind of hatred? He is just an ass to everyone really. There is the Russians wanting to either steal the monster or kill it so the Americans don’t advance technologically. There is a closeted neighbour recovering from alcoholism and desperate to get back to work. His backstory and current predicament hold little meaning besides a reason to eventually help Elisa. There is a Russian agent who isn’t bad and wants to protect the animal but is involved as a lifelong spy.

There is Elisa herself who is mute and who has scars on her neck where gills would be present. These aren’t properly explained. The evil douchebag character alludes to the fact they must have happened or been a part of her losing her voice as a child when she was found next to a river. I may have missed something here. But does this mean she was part amphibian already? Is this why she is perfect with the Amphibian Man? Their story parallels are quite beautiful but the chemistry is a little odd. I mean would you sleep with a fish? Haha

And my biggest gripe for THE SHAPE OF WATER – it’s about 20mins too long with quite a pace drop in the middle. I checked my watch.


The Shape of Water Michael Shannon image
Michael Shannon



The strength in the movie, besides the visuals and Guillermo, is the cast. It is just superb. Sally Hawkins is a true marvel, the movie was actually written for her and Michael Shannon. Richard Jenkins’ character, Giles, was originally written for Sir Ian McKellen but Jenkins was a marvellous performer and one of the highlights of the movie – the man is a genius actor.

Doug Jones played the Amphibian Man and is known for playing creatures in nearly every movie he is in. His movements are superb and the creature is quite beautiful. Jones spent over three hours every day on a twelve week shoot getting into costume. He says it wasn’t nearly as difficult as a lot of other characters he has played in Del Toro movies (the very similar character Abe Sapien in HELLBOY and Fauno/ Pale Man in PAN’S LABYRINTH). He is also currently Saru on STAR TREK: DISCOVERY. Michael Shannon is also Michael Shannon at his best. Dark and complex, playing a character you love to hate. He is made for these roles.

Another beautiful thing about THE SHAPE OF WATER. In the 1960s movie the “black” woman and the gay man do most of the talking and are the voices of the lead characters who are muted by their lives. In reality the “minority” characters of the time would have been quite silenced. This was one of the things that drew Octavia Spencer to the movie, besides the fact she said she “would have walked the Earth to work with Del Toro.” Spencer is a highlight of every scene she is in regardless of the fact her character is stereotyped – the character is basically her characters from THE HELP and HIDDEN FIGURES meshed into one.


The Shape of Water Richard Jenkins and Sally Hawkins image
Richard Jenkins and Sally Hawkins



Sadly THE SHAPE OF WATER just didn’t swim the perfect laps I was expecting. It is gloriously beautiful and acted to perfection but I never fully engaged with the movie. Whereas HUGO took my heart I just appreciated the skill and beauty of THE SHAPE OF WATER without falling in love.





 owns, writes and edits Salty Popcorn and Spooning Australia. He is a movie, food, restaurant, wine, chocolate, bacon, burger and brussels sprouts addict. He is a member of the Australian Film Critics Association and has been in the  industry for 26yrs. Furthermore he loves watching people trip over and is Leonardo DiCaprio’s biggest fan. 

** Images used are courtesy of various sources on Google or direct from the distributor or publisher. Credit has been given to photographers where known – images will be removed on request.