Film review: The Shape of Water

Say what you want about this film, it certainly features more human/fish sex than any other nominee. No one can take that away from it.

The Shape of Water is a truly puzzling experience. Director Guillermo del Toro returns to his Pans Labyrinth weirdness in a disarming love story between a mute cleaner and a fish-frog-man creature. Sally Hawkins plays the silent protagonist who works at the facility which houses the aquatic oddity.

To be honest, The Shape of Water threw me. It’s difficult to focus on shot composition or intended meaning when presented with such a bizarre plot. That said, the performances are all engaging, precise and often funny. The cast really sells the central premise as something we can take reasonably seriously.

Del Toro uses colour very effectively. The key motif of water soaks through into almost every frame. Dark greens and blues flow through a lot of the backgrounds featuring our main characters. Similarly, he commonly keeps the creature in shadow to convey its mystery (and probably to conceal budgetary constraints). Meanwhile, villain Michael Shannon inhabits stark backgrounds of contrasts. Blacks with whites or yellows place him in firm opposition to the protagonists.

The film does require an active audience. It features sequences that are clearly metaphorical which are all well and good. However, there are also sequences that you could take as either metaphorical or literal.On one hand, they’re completely absurd.  On the other hand, they’re treated seriously and the characters acknowledge them within the narrative. The Shape of Water wants you to think about it and that’s a turn off or on depending on your tastes.

While I’m not entirely sure what I was supposed to get out of it, I can’t deny I was entertained. The very fact I was able to accept the madness on screen speaks to the skill involved. And as for the scene where characters graphically explain the logistics of the fish-man’s genitals… thanks. Thanks for that.