Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins) is a mute who works in a government laboratory. She and Zelda Fuller (Octavia Spencer) clean the facilities while government officials conduct their experiments. Elisa’s only other friend is her neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins), an artist whose commercial works are no longer appreciated.
Colonel Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon) has recently captured an amphibian creature (Doug Jones) from the Amazon. At the direction of General Hoyt (Nick Searcy), Strickland is studying the creature to see if it can be used as an asset in the Cold War with Russia. Working alongside Strickland is Dr. Robert Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg). The methods they use to explore the creatures ability is cruel and inhumane.
While cleaning the lab containing the creature after an incident, Elisa notices the creature. She realizes that he is more human than the scientists have realized. Elisa sneaks off to spend time with the creature whenever she is at work, always finding some excuse to disappear. When she learns that Hoyt and Strickland plan to kill the creature, she hatches a plan with Giles to free him.
Writer/director Guillermo del Toro weaves a tale that combines horror, scifi, espionage, and romance so deftly in a way only he can manage.
Sally Hawkins plays a mute, which means that the majority of her acting is, obviously, done through nonverbal actions. She throws in sign language as a way to communicate with her friends, but also as a way to keep the viewer in the loop. She is defiant and hopeful. As the lead character with such a deficit, she does an outstanding job. Octavia Spencer serves as Elisa’s translator and comic foil. Her quips keep the film from getting even darker than it already is. That darkness comes primarily from Michael Shannon. Seemingly made for this role, Shannon shows a sadistic side that extends beyond just the aquatic creature. He sees everyone as below him and isn’t afraid to let them know it.
As I stated, this is a story unlike most others. Though some may see it as a “modern” twist on Splash. So many genres are spliced together to bring a unique feel to the film. I was completely enthralled with the story for the first two thirds of the film. Once the third act starts, it takes a twist that caught me a little off guard. The exact mechanics behind it are explained in an amusing exchange between Elisa and Zelda. Nonetheless, it was a little bizarre. To be honest, I wasn’t exactly what to think when the film ended.
The Shape of Water will keep you on your toes wondering where exactly it is heading even though you know exactly where it is headed. It is part love story, part science fiction that has to be experienced to be appreciated. An excellent cast combined with del Toro at the helm make for an interesting film. Catch it in the theaters while you can, if for no other reason than you will be hearing about it come awards time.