The Shape Of Water review: Guillermo del Toro delivers a career-best with this romantic fairy tale that kicks off awards season in style.

The Shape Of Water review by Paul Heath.

The Shape Of Water review

Guillermo del Toro brings his latest brand of dark fairy tale, The Shape Of Water to the screen, a romantic drama that features an all-star cast, including Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Octavia Spencer, Michael Stuhlbarg and an impressive turn from Doug Jones.

The film revolves around Hawkins’ central character of Eliza Esposito, a mute young woman who lives on her own above a cinema in Baltimore in the early sixties. Eliza lives next door to artist and best friend Giles (Richard Jenkins), a struggling artist who is constantly trying to sell his work, only to be knocked back with photography slowly taking over the advertising industry.

Eliza works nights as a cleaner alongside friend Zelda (Octavia Spencer) at a government plant where a group of scientists have managed to capture gilled, green, amphibious creature (played by Doug Jones). Over the course of a few days, Eliza slowly starts to befriend it, bringing in eggs to eat and playing it old records on a portable vinyl player.

The Shape Of Water review

Meanwhile, overlooking the creature’s stay at the planet is Michael Shannon’s Colonel Strickland, a fierce individual who is not enjoying the same relationship. He is attacked early on, losing two fingers in an attack by the creature, but continues to provoke the monster on daily basis while he awaits instructions from his superiors. In the wings is Hoffstetler (Stuhlbarg), a scientist who seemingly has another agenda altogether. As the film progresses, more and more becomes clear from both, while Eliza falls more and more in love with the adorable but sometimes dangerous being.

Related: TIFF 2017: Call Me By Your Name review

Over the years, del Toro has brought many solid fantasy efforts to the screen, from the impressive The Devil’s Backbone to his more commercial efforts Hellboy and Pacific Rim. The Shape Of Water belongs very much in the same world as Pan’s Labyrinth, but is also unique unto itself with its very clever storytelling, breathtaking visuals and phenomenal acting from all parties involved.

Sally Hawkins is exceptional as the lead, a lonely young woman with a very set routine – waking up, boiling eggs and spending a specific amount of ‘personal time’ in the bathtub every morning. The actress is fearless in the role and convinces from the off, he part limited to just a very small amount of dialogue (which comes much later on). Michael Shannon is also at his absolute best as the villain of the piece, the commanding Colonel Strickland who dominates every scene he’s in. The two characters are polar opposites, but are equally as powerful throughout, and of course they are supported by some fantastic character acting from he likes of Octavia Spencer, Michael Stuhlbarg (in his second film over here at TIFF following Call Me By Your Name) and our narrator, Richard Jenkins.

The Shape Of Water review

An absolute must-mention is Doug Jones’ portrayal of the creature, the actor quietly managing to do for live-action costume acting what Andy Serkis does for motion capture. The actor has managed to pull out a striking but ultimately sad key character that is oh so important to the story, a part that ranks up there with his most prominent and best portrayals in his long career.

Part B-movie, part love-story, part alien adventure, The Shape Of Water is an amazing piece of work from an already accomplished, acclaimed director, but make no mistake, this is del Toro at his absolute best. Fans of his previous work should lap this up as it is a delicious medley of every single one of his movies rolled into one. Very deserved of its big win over at the Venice Film Festival this past week, expect The Shape Of Water to go to even bigger things – a fantastical, visually stunning piece of art-house cinema mixed up with traits of a true Hollywood sci-fl blockbuster. Amazing, shocking, delightful and heartfelt – literally everything you could want from a movie and so much more. One of the best films of the year.

The Shape Of Water review by Paul Heath, Toronto Film Festival, 2017.

The Shape Of Water will be released in UK cinemas on 16th February 2018.

The Shape Of Water