There are some directors who have a special talent for building worlds all their own, without any source material, and Guillermo del Toro is one of the best doing it right now.
His latest movie, “The Shape of Water,” followed up its grand prize win at the Venice Film Festival this past weekend by dazzling everyone here at the Toronto International Film Festival.
Written by del Toro and Vanessa Taylor, the movie is set during the Space Race at a time when America isn’t ready to put a man in a shuttle yet. In the film, there’s a creature the government has captured in the Amazon that it thinks can be used as a test dummy on a launch. But that plan is quickly knocked down, as the military believes it makes more sense to kill and examine the creature to know more about its capabilities.
There’s one problem: The creature has befriended a mute janitor named Eliza (Sally Hawkins), who is determined to see that doesn’t happen.
That’s the real story of “The Shape of Water,” the relationship between the creature and Eliza. She lives atop a run-down movie theatre and spends her days going to work at an military base, where she cleans alongside chatty Zelda (Octavia Spencer), and at home hanging out with her gay neighbour, Giles (Richard Jenkins). Only able to communicate through signing, Eliza instantly has a connection with the creature as she sees them both as prisoners: literally for the creature and figuratively for Eliza, as she cannot find someone to love her.
After Eliza comes up with a daring escape from the lab with the creature, pulling a fast one on the head of security, Strickland (Michael Shannon), Eliza keeps the creature in the bath tub of her apartment until the rainy season comes when she’ll bring him out into the ocean. In that time, a relationship between Eliza and the creature sparks.
Throughout all this, we’re surrounded in a world del Toro has created that has the feel of an old Hollywood movie, from the set design to the wacky dream sequence when Eliza and the creature suddenly have a brief dance number. “The Shape of Water” combines a creature feature and a melodrama to tell a beautiful story that will thrill as much as get you emotional.
As with every del Toro movie, there’s a nice touch of gore in it, too. The major squirm moments come from the Strickland character, who early in the movie has two fingers sliced off by the creature. And let’s just say the reattachment of the digits to the hand doesn’t work out.
The creature is played by the always great Doug Jones, who del Toro fans will remember played Abe Sapien in his “Hellboy” movies, while Hawkins gives a wonderful performance as Eliza. And let’s not forget two of the best Michaels working today: Shannon and Michael Stuhlbarg (as the good-natured scientist).
Expect a lot of talk about this movie as we get deeper into awards season.
“The Shape of Water” opens in theatres December 8:
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