This Friday from the masterful writer/director Guillermo del Toro and Fox Searchlight comes a story that captures the heart when becoming a part of “The Shape of Water.”
In 1962, Elisa (Sally Hawkins) is a young mute woman living in a quiet world of her own. Living her life day to day in a repeating pattern, it includes visiting her neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins) for a little television and being watched over at work by friend Zelda (Octavia Spencer).
Working as a cleaning lady in a government facility, one day a strange container arrives. Being fairly invisible, Elisa is curious about what they are working on. Hearing that whatever is in the container is highly-classified, it doesn’t stop her from taking a look for herself.
That’s when she discovers a creature (Doug Jones) submerged in a tank pool, yet not truly afraid of what she sees. Instead, Elisa seems to sense that the creature is afraid and she discovers ways to put it at ease. Through patience, Elisa and her webbed friend begin to have a friendship that is quietly beautiful.
Keeping an eye on the laboratory is the very aggressive Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon) who is feared by most everyone. Watching over the experiments is Dr. Robert Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg) who isn’t a fan of Strickland’s either and has his own secrets to keep.
Elisa sees that her creature friend is suffering and decides she is going to do whatever it takes to help. Enlisting Giles proves to be a challenge and a plan is made. What surprises Elisa the most is who comes out of nowhere to make sure the plan works perfectly!
Strickland becomes even more hostile and ballistic and is about to make sure every human being within his earshot suffers until the creature is found. There is no mercy for anyone as he investigates every person working in the laboratory. Elisa knows that time may not be on their side but can’t turn away from her feelings.
It is a friendship that embraces their differences!
Hawkins as Elisa is absolutely endearing, lovely, heart-wrenching, soulful, playful and a dreamer of epic proportions. Every part of Elisa’s character is in her eyes and smile which brought smiles to my own face before I could help myself. In the life she has created, finding someone who is also mute yet full of emotion, Elisa just dances over this film effortlessly. Hawkins is on my list for any award she wants — yes, including an Oscar.
Jenkins as Giles is such a lovely man who is creative at a time when things are ever changing. He loves his old movies and the friendship with Elisa and even though he might be a tad afraid of the unknown, he is challenged by Elisa’s will to be humane. Jenkins can portray characters that are so sweet and harmless and Giles is such a character done so well.
Spencer as Zelda is funny, no-nonsense and protective of Elisa. I love her monologues while mopping with Elisa and straight-faced one-liners and quips when up against Strickland. I mean seriously, would expect anything less from Spencer? Stuhlbarg as Dr. Robert Hoffstetler is definitely a conflicted character and for reasons, you will discover for yourself. I do love his performance because I have seen Stuhlbarg be both good guy and bad and here he mixes the two and I adore the outcome.
There are two actors in this film that we must discuss, first Shannon as Richard Strickland is as frightening as I know he can be. There are so many dimensions to Shannon as an actor and he always manages to surprise me. Yes, he can be the scariest and meanest badass ever to grace a film but Shannon never does it the same way twice or even three or four times for that matter. Here Strickland is a complex hater of a human being and only Shannon could have done it — and done it right.
Second, the ever amazing and continually exceptional work of Doug Jones as the creature. Jones has been at the forefront of some of the most amazing characters and yet never seeing his face. In the 2004 film “Hellboy” he was Abe Sapien, teaming up with Del Torro in the 2006 film “Pan’s Labyrinth” he was the Pale Man, in 2007 he starred in “Fantastic 4:: Rise of the Silver Surfer” as the Silver Surfer, in 2010’s “Legion” he was the Ice Cream Man (creepier than all get out people!) and back with Del Torro in the 2015 horror offering of “Crimson Peak.”
Let us not forget television when in 2014 he played one of my favorite characters in the series “Falling Skies” as Cochise, gave us a new vampire in the FX series “The Strain” as one of The Ancient’s and is now part of the Trekkie family with “Star Trek: Discovery.”
Now, in “The Shape of Water,” Jones once again portrays a character that is all about the physicality of storytelling. Over all that costuming, a persona comes to life that is easy to love and want to protect. That’s what Jones brings out in us all with this performance. In case you might be wondering, I had the opportunity to speak with Doug last year when he was promoting the space film “Space Command.” All I can say is that he is lovely, charming and funny so perhaps I have more of a bit of a soft spot for his portrayal of this endearing creature. Amazing performance Doug and congratulations for making us all fall in love with love again!
Other cast include David Hewlett as Fleming, Nick Searcy as General Hoyt, Stewart Arnott as Bernard, Nigel Bennett as Mihalkov, Lauren Lee Smith as Elaine Strickland, Martin Roach as Brewster Fuller, Allegra Fulton as Yolanda and John Kapelos as Mr. Arzoumanian.
“The Shape of Water” is a film that is so magnificently shot with nuances that I couldn’t get enough of. The story is one of beauty, loneliness, fear, courage, music, caring, anger, betrayal, secrets, friendships and about every human emotion on the spectrum.
In the end — it is a fairy tale for troubled times!