"Shape of Water" Film Review- Awash with constantly surprising pleasures

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8/31/2017 by David Roone


The Bottom Line

Awash with constantly surprising pleasures.

Sally Hawkins stars as a mute cleaner at a U.S. government aerospace facility who bonds with an amphibious creature in Guillermo del Toro's Cold War romantic fairy tale.

Stepping away from his big-budget studio work on Pacific Rim and Crimson Peak to return closer to the more artisanal territory of his memorable early Spanish-language films The Devil's Backbone and Pan's Labyrinth, Guillermo del Toro delivers pure enchantment with The Shape of Water. A dark-edged fairy tale as lovingly steeped in vintage movie magic as it is in hypnotic water imagery, this captivating creature feature marries a portrait of morally corrupt early-1960s America with an outsider tale of love and friendship molded by a master storyteller.

Centered on an exquisite performance from Sally Hawkins that conveys both delicacy and strength, this is a visually and emotionally ravishing fantasy that should find a welcome embrace from audiences starved for imaginative escape.

Following Crimson Peak, The Shape of Water shows signs of del Toro having taken on board the criticisms widely leveled at that lush gothic horror-melodrama. The extravagant design elements and overburdened plotting of the 2015 feature tended to smother much of the story's genuine emotion, pointing up the shortage of depth in flat characters that invited too little lasting investment. The new picture, by contrast, applies Paul Denham Austerberry's dazzling production design and Dan Laustsen's graceful cinematography to a poignant story in which good and evil are represented in richly drawn figures played by a first-rate principal cast.

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