The store is set in the 1960s in Baltimore and follows the lonely Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins), a cleaner in a secret government laboratory, who communicates in sign language. She lives in an old apartment above the cinema, and is occasionally accompanied by her neighbor Gilles (Richard Jenkins), a gay artist with less and less work. During a typical shift with colleague Zelda (Octavia Spencer), he discovers that a mystical creature from the waters of South America has arrived in the laboratory, with whom he will soon begin an unusually close relationship. It turns out that this is an amphibious man, whom Agent Strickland (Michael Shannon) wants to remove as soon as possible, so Elisa decides to make radical moves (
Del Toro, in collaboration with Vanessa Taylor, is writing an extremely rich screenplay, which, in addition to the main plot, combines several other stories, just enough to be a real support to the main theme and not to divert attention from it. The duo was obviously full of ideas, and the fact that each of the characters has a backup of a story of about twenty pages, which do not even appear in the film, speaks enough in favor of that. In addition to the romantic fusion of two marginals, who are each in their own way, The Shape of Water can also be a fairy tale with a monster, a noir-heist, a spy saga set during the Cold War, but also a critique of American culture of the sixties.
The central narrative deals with loneliness, social isolation and a plot in which two sad outsiders fairytale found their way to each other. Del Toro never had a problem looking at his ideas through the prism of melodrama, but it is safe to say that he raised melodrama practically to the maximum here, which leads to the fact that some viewers can consider the whole plot and total unfolding. I respect the author’s freedom and I am aware that we are observing a fantasy in which relatively everything is allowed, but I am of the opinion that it has been exaggerated a bit. Also, I was surprised by the lack of mystery in his story, which is one of the trademarks of Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth).
The film masterfully combines fantasy and realism (period drama). On the one hand, we have an amphibious man and events related to him, while on the other hand, we observe the faithfully transmitted historical period and the presentation of a secret government laboratory with daily routines, in which such a specific institution seems completely human. In that way, fantastic events get a relatively more normal impression. This combination is enriched with outstanding visual solutions, which are much more based on practical effects than on CGI. Del Toro simply screens his visions, which are the fruit of his rich imagination, so each frame is full of colors and details, which leads to the creation of a unique environment and atmosphere.
A carefully selected casting with top character actors is included in that atmosphere. Sally Hawkins plays Del Toro’s version of Amelia Poulin, who is lovely, defiant, determined and strong, although at first glance she gives the impression of vulnerability and helplessness. Michael Shannon interprets Bed Guy, according to the narrator of the real monster in this story, whom most other actors would present in one dimension, while here, thanks to Shannon, he is much more than a classic antagonist. The Trio Stulbarg (Michael Stuhlbarg) -Spenser-Dawkins, with their supporting characters, provide a surprising dose of humanity, which does not exceed the limits of pathos even in such melodramatic circumstances.
The Shape of Water is a specific fairy tale for adults with an impressive visual experience and a film that makes Guillermo del Toro finally get the attention he deserves a long time ago, even though he exaggerated to some extent with his fantasies.