Alumni Thoughts: The Shape of Water (2017)

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Written by Alec Shangold

The Shape of Water

Guillermo Del Toro showcases a mastery of cinematic language in his latest extravaganza, The Shape of Water. It’s the heart of the Cold War. Elisa (Sally Hawkins), a mute, lonely night worker at a government facility, accidentally stumbles upon something incomprehensible: a half-man, half-amphibious creature (Doug Jones), stored in a giant laboratory where scientists and military personnel debate whether ’tis nobler to dissect the beast or observe its lifestyle. And what’s stranger, Elisa seems to develop a bond with the beast — it responds to hard-boiled eggs and big band music and even sign language. Caught in the middle of a triangle of intrigue, Elisa enlists the help of her neighbor (Richard Jenkins) and a fellow janitor (Octavia Spencer) in her efforts to rescue the beast. But something more than intrigue simmers beneath the surface…

If you’re confused as to what you should expect from a film that seems to bounce between genres like a pinball, you’re not alone. This film is a Cold War-monster-silent-musical-romance-thriller-action-adventure-sci-fi-comedy. With any other director steering the vessel, you’d have every right to abandon ship. But Guillermo directs this masterclass with such tender passion, he imbues his love for this story and these characters in every actor, set piece, and frame in this magical film. Nothing feels extraneous, no beat misses its mark, and no eye is left without a tear. The Shape of Water is, far and away, the film of 2017. See it now, see it loud, see it big, see it with a crowd, walk out with a newfound understanding of what it means to be in love.

Mercer Malakoff