<Review by: Sailesh Ghelani>


Directed by Guillermo del Toro. Starring Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Doug Jones, Michael Stuhlbarg, Octavia Spencer, Lauren Lee Smith

Running time: 2 hours


I liked Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth and expected something dark and mysterious from Oscar-nominated The Shape of Water, but unfortunately all I got was a formulaic story done with some old world cinematic finesse.

Set in the days of the cold war, when the Americans were trying to gain an advantage over the Soviets who had sent a man in space, The Shape of Water tells the tale of an ‘asset’ at a secret military base in the US that must be studied and killed. This sea creature, part man-part fish, has feelings, intelligence and some interesting powers. But the real monster is Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon) who oversees the torture and interrogation of the ‘beast’. And then there’s the sort-of ‘beauty’, Elisa (Sally Hawkins), a mute cleaning lady with scars of her own who very quickly befriends the sea creature with the help of some boiled eggs and music. And of course, they must rescue each other!


From the get go you know exactly how this story is going to pan out. There’s no mystery here, no intrigue or anticipation. Of course it’s a metaphor for humanity’s bigotry and fear of things that are strange or different. In fact, the story includes little situations of prejudice against black as well as gay people. Apart from being moments, they don’t really take the discussion forward in any way. It’s like they have messages to tell but really, a film is about showing us emotion and drama to get a message across. That is lacking.

Alexandre Desplat’s score is lilting and lovely but I found the direction and visual style to be inconsistent. It was like different styles and motifs were put in there just to invoke a sense of time or place without having any significance or justification. It was just to give a look to the film that would make it seem charming and lovely. It doesn’t work that well.


Michael Shannon, Michael Stuhlbarg and Octavia Spencer end up being type cast in characters you’ve seen them in before. Same for Richard Jenkins. Sally Hawkins is relatively pleasing initially but soon gets a bit too horny for the sea creature for us to think of this as romantic love. This is certainly no Beauty and the Beast story.

I felt nothing for this story or the characters. There’s no depth or feeling behind it; just a message, which people will obviously gravitate towards. But then a public service announcement can serve as a suitable message. I want to be moved by a film. A tear should stream down my face. I should choke up. But The Shape of Water left me feeling neutral and blah.


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