Susan Granger’s review of “The Shape of Water” (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
Filmmaker Guillermo del Toro has created a poignant, fantastical fable, set in Baltimore, Maryland, at the height of the Cold War era in 1962.
A lonely, mute janitor, Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins), discovers an exotic, aquatic Creature from the Black Lagoon, hidden in a cylindrical tank in a high-security government laboratory, run by sadistic Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon) who tortures his amphibian captive with an electric cattle prod.
In the rain forest of South America’s Amazon River, the fish-man (Doug Jones) is a considered a God. Not only can he breathe underwater, utilizing shimmering gills, but also on-land, since he has humanoid lungs. Modeled after Michelangelo’s “David,” he has a perfectly proportioned swimmer’s body – and his touch has remarkable curative powers.
Captured by the military, this mysterious, yet innocent hybrid is being brutalized by so-called scientists who consider him an oceanographic ‘asset’ that can give America a supernatural advantage over the perceived Communist threat.
Secretly sharing her hard-boiled eggs, Elisa feels empathy for the Creature with whom she communicates in sign language. Because of her inability to speak, Elisa is regarded as “incomplete,” less than fully human. Since both Elisa and the Creature can hear, they share a love of jazz music and a deep, intuitive bond.
With the help of a co-worker (Octavia Spencer), a sympathetic scientist/spy (Michael Stuhlbarg), and an artist neighbor (Richard Jenkins), Elisa is determined to set him free.
Guillermo del Toro (“Pan’s Labyrinth”) delves into the erotically charged romanticism that often pervades the darkly bewitched monsters in the classic horror genre, like “Beauty and the Beast.” Only in this thriller, they’re on equal terms. He calls it “a fairy tale for trouble times” and an “antidote to now.”
“Everything is so sordid and horrible right now,” he told ‘Variety,’ “but this movie is not shy about talking about love and beauty and the good things in life.”
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Shape of Water” is a sensuous, sumptuous 10, an enchanting, redemptive, interspecies love story.