Much like Hayao Miyazaki, Mexican director Guillermo del Toro is a man with a singular vision, an ability to craft stories both strange and simple, worlds foreign yet familiar. Nowhere is this more evident than in his most recent film, The Shape of Water, a surreal, romantic fairy-tale set in the late '50s that stars Sally Hawkins as a mute woman who falls in love with a water-bound creature held in captivity at the government facility where she works.
Since its North American premiere at TIFF, the movie — filmed in Hamilton and Toronto — has made a splash on social media thanks to its merman-on-human love scenes; it's bound to be the most talked-about aspect of the movie, but to reduce The Shape of Water to just a pair of implied sex scenes would ignore how emotionally rich del Toro's latest love-story-in-the-face-of-adversity really is.
This is a passionate film, a classic romance, stunning Spielberg-ian adventure and monster movie all rolled into one. (It even breaks out into a brief musical number three-quarters of the way through.) Fans of del Toro's creature creations and his attention to detail will find a lot to love about this picture, which finds the filmmaker working within a green colour palette — a fact made obvious throughout the film (everything from pies to Cadillacs and bathtubs have a greenish hue, giving viewers the sense of being in the murky depths of rivers and oceans, even when most of the action takes place above ground).
It helps set the tone for the film, which finds leads Michael Shannon (as sinister government agent Strickland, an egomaniac who sees washing hands after going to the bathroom as a sign of weakness), Richard Jenkins (as an aging graphic designer who feels an overwhelming sense of loneliness due to his sexuality), Academy Award-winner Octavia Spencer (playing a fellow janitor in the facility and acting often as the film's comic relief and moral conscience) and Hawkins (who barely utters a word but is able to convey everything that needs to be said with her fleeting glances, facial expressions and sign-language) riding high throughout.
The Shape of Water's R-rating means younger audiences will have to wait to experience this gorgeous film, but that's okay; sometimes adults need fairy-tales too, and del Toro's latest is an inspiring and heart-wrenching one.