by Charles Kirkland Jr.
Beauty and the Beast collide with The Creature From The Black Lagoon in the very adult fairy tale from the mind of Guillermo del Toro called The Shape of Water.
Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins) is a lonely, mute woman. She lives alone with no pets. She has one friend at home who lives next door Giles (Richard Jenkins), an out of work advertising executive and one friend at work, Zelda (Octavia Spencer). She and Zelda work at a secret laboratory in Baltimore as a janitor. Everything about her life is routine and ordinary. Until one day, when Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon) brings a strange new and fascinating creature to the facility for research. Elisa finds herself smitten and when she hears of the plans for it, she is driven to save the creature that now brings color to her life.
Oscar nominee Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine) is a delight. She plays her role with sincere tenderness at times and sheer ferocity at others, without speaking a word. She does an outstanding job of communicating her emotions and desires again, without words (for the most part). Oscar winner Spencer (The Help) and Oscar nominee Jenkins (The Visitor) contribute to her process though by interpreting her sign language with the required gravitas to sustain her character.
Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy, Pacific Rim, Crimson Peak) directs and co-writes this magnificent and beautiful tale of romance. If you’ve ever seen a movie by del Toro, you know that he has a signature style of creating images that utilize colors in a way that accentuates the emotion of the scene that is remarkable. This movie is no different. The Shape of Water is a master class in film composition. From the dull, nearly monotone and dark beginnings of the film, the movie morphs and grows and more striking colors are introduced along with warmer lighting toward the end. The colors also help to illustrate the emotions of the characters and identify their transformations.
From a writing standpoint, the movie is not original. del Toro and Vanessa Taylor’s screenplay is almost exactly the story of Beauty and the Beast with a few minor, yet significant additions. Elisa is Belle and Richard Strickland is Gaston while the creature (played by actor, not senator, Doug Jones) is the Beast. However, the execution is the key. Where Beauty and the Beast are kid-friendly, this movie is much more intentionally adult. However, many of the key themes of love, growth, and understanding remain. The main theme is communication.
Elisa, because of her inability to communicate conventionally through speech, has found ways to break through her barrier to be able to not only talk to others but find the true natures of those around her.
Rated R for sexual content, graphic nudity, violence and language, The Shape of Water is a charming and alluring yet extremely mature take on the classic fairy tale that is worthy of Oscar recognition for del Toro, Hawkins, and Spencer.