Film Review: The Shape of Water

Review by Dash Wilson.

With a production budget of under twenty-million and a current box office take of eighty-million and rising, The Shape of Water has been a box office success. Based on an original screenplay and directed by Mexican Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy) The Shape of Water tells the story of Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins) an awkward mute who works as a janitor at a secret government laboratory in Baltimore during the cold war.  With the help of her only two friends (Richard Jenkins and Octavia Spencer), Elisa discovers and ultimately bonds with a mysterious humanoid amphibian (Doug Jones) the government is currently holding hostage and doing testing on.  

Monster films are always a risk. Writer/Director Del Toro has teamed with Cinematographer Dan Laustsen DFF ASC (John Wick: Chapter 2, Crimson Peak) to successfully create a visually stunning film that could have been a complete misfire. With its use of deep shadows and sidelights, Lausten has created a feast for the eyes that is complimented by Alexandre Desplat’s moving score. The underwater shots in particular are infused with colour, feeling and beauty and are all the more impressive in that not much water was actually used on set, but smoke and moving light utilised in its place. 

The performances here are excellent across the board, Michael Shannon however is a little over the top as the villain, and Hawkins in her Oscar nominated performance is particularly good. Whilst many critics have raved about this film, it just isn’t that original (Beauty and the Beast with water anyone?). It is also littered with clichés; the gay, lonely best friend, the sassy black co-worker, and in the end whilst quite mesmerising and beautiful to watch, it is also a rather meaningless fantasy. Call me a cynic if you will but The Shape of Water is a decent film, it’s just not a great one.

Reviewing all five films nominated for the Academy Award for Best Cinematography in 2018, Dash Wilson is a film-lover based in Brisbane and is the resident Film Critic for Australian Cinematographer Magazine.

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