The Shape of Water is one of a handful of films in this year’s race that awakens all five senses – others being Call Me By Your Name, Phantom Thread and Mudbound. From the fevered, expansive mind of del Toro is this unlikely love story where one discarded human finds true love in another, the “other”. The Shape of Water is one of the few films that taps into the horrors of Trump’s America. He, like Steve Bannon, Roger Stone and the Tea Party billionaires are invested in yanking America back before civil rights, the LGBT and feminist movements. They would describe it all as dangerous. Restore order and control, that’s what they want, send us back to the 1950s where human rights didn’t matter.
Of course it’s also about love, about listening, about friendship and about cinema. The Shape of Water is to my mind one of the best films of the year and unlike anything I’ve ever seen. And I get that mine appears to be an unusual take. One of the weirdest things I’ve experienced this year is that the movies I’ve loved I seem to be along in my esteem for them, at least on Film Twitter. And the reverse is true. I think the overt sexuality puts people off because it exists singularly, with Sally Hawkins in a bathtub, and then with a sea creature. You understand it if you understand her – but I’m sensing that for many people they are resistant to that part of it. It is just too weird to absorb.
The NY Times’ AO Scott names it a critics pick and writes:
Bigotry and meanness flow through every moment like an underground stream, but kindness is always possible, and so is beauty. “The Shape of Water” is made of vivid colors and deep shadows; it’s as gaudy as a musical (and briefly turns into one), bright as a cartoon and murky as a film noir. (The cinematographer is Dan Laustsen. The score is by Alexandre Desplat.) Its busy plot moves swiftly — the presence of Russian spies never hurts, especially when one is played by Michael Stuhlbarg — except when Mr. del Toro lingers over a moment of tenderness, a delicate joke or an eruption of grace.
Ms. Hawkins and Doug Jones, soulful and gorgeous beneath his shimmering carapace of blue-green scales, supply most of those. Since neither Elisa nor the Asset possesses the power of speech, they communicate through gestures and, since both can hear, through music. Ms. Hawkins, giving a silent performance in a sound film, will perhaps inevitably evoke Charlie Chaplin, and she moves her body and her facial features with Chaplinesque elegance, narrowing the distance between acting and dancing, turning physical comedy into corporeal poetry.
And Joe Morgenstern’s review, which is behind a paywall, has a great opening graph:
“The Shape of Water” is a flow of sumptuous images set to music, a flood tide of feelings with a mythic undertow. Setting out to describe the beauties of Guillermo del Toro’s romantic fable can lead to burbly verbal excesses, since it’s such an exotic, and erotic, mixture: weird science straight out of the comic books; Cold War intrigue; man’s equal-opportunity inhumanity to man plus oth