“The Shape of Water” takes a new angle on monster movies


Will Patterson

“The Shape of Water” was finally released nationwide last December after months of private film festival screenings and select theater screenings. Guillermo del Toro’s latest film takes a completely new angle on the classic monster movie.

An intriguing aspect of “The Shape of Water” is the main character, Elisa’s (Sally Hawkins) inability to speak. She is completely mute and communicates through sign language. While most of her coworkers and bosses don’t understand sign language, her coworker and friend, Zelda (Octavia Spencer), serves as her translator. This sets a precedent for a dynamic relationship that evolves throughout the movie.

The discovery of a “gill-man” type creature being held in a secret military facility leads Elisa to step outside of her comfort zone and risk everything for the sake of “doing the right thing.” While still being a monster movie, “The Shape of Water” is ultimately an unusual love story.

“The Shape of Water” presents the striking visuals and themes that are an iconic part of every del Toro movie. The movie gives viewers a glimpse into a top-secret military facility at the height of the Cold War. Grim, dark scenes with interspersed moments of vivid color create a thematic and visual contrast that keeps the film from being bogged down with depressing tones.

Cold War settings have high potential for a rich plot, but they can easy fall victim to worn-out tropes. This movie avoids this by showing the flaws and struggles on both sides of the iron curtain. The dark vibes are played up by the intense paranoia that accompanies the Cold War struggles, but it never threatens to consume the plot’s main focus.

One challenge visual effects artists can face is over-saturation. Too heavily edited or too many effects can ruin a movie’s appeal. “The Shape of Water” avoids this with the rendering of its monster. The final product is a beautiful, colorful creature design.

The acting throughout the movie is exceptional. Viewers will probably notice several faces they haven’t seen before alongside a couple more famous actors and actresses.

Hawkin’s portrayal of Elisa is superb. Without using her voice, she conveys the internal turmoil and thoughts of Elisa seamlessly. With furious hand signaling and facial expressions, she sells a whole range of emotions.

Zelda is another character that shines in “The Shape of Water.” Spencer has already established herself as an incredible actress, and she reaffirms this with her performance as Zelda. The “best friend” character can sometimes be an awkward, tacky role. Spencer makes it work by pouring emotion into her few standalone scenes. Echoing past roles, she embodies the struggles that women of color faced in the movie’s setting.

“The Shape of Water” shapes up to be a fantastic movie with some highly unusual themes. Even cinema fans who aren’t enthralled with the idea of loving a fish monster should give the film a chance just to experience its skillful production.