The Shape of Water movie poster
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The Shape of Water
The Shape of Water movie poster

The Shape of Water Movie Review

Expectations are killer, especially when the buzz screams “awards contender.” Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water has been getting Best Picture talk for months, stunning given that the movie is about a mute woman who falls in love with Swamp Thing and not much more. Beautifully crafted and well acted, the movie is otherwise a so-fucking-what little film that doesn’t have much else going for it.

Had The Shape of Water come out over the summer, or in the spring, or anytime other than awards season, or even if it had but absent the critical hype, I’ll admit I might have reacted differently. But expectations are what they are and I’m human despite being otherwise perfect, and other than some contention for best makeup, The Shape of Water doesn’t have a drop of awards material.

Sally Hawkins plays Elisa, whose mutism seems to exist as a character trait just to make you think this movie is more clever than it actually is. And to give Hawkins the opportunity to express herself without dialogue, which has never been a challenge for her anyway. She’s fine, I guess (frankly, for no particular reason, I’ve never been a huge Sally Hawkins fan, and her performance here didn’t do anything to convince me otherwise), but Michael Shannon is a blast as always (as the evil government croony who serves as the villain) and Richard Jenkins is also really good, if understated. I’d love to say nice things about Octavia Spencer, but she isn’t given much to do.

The movie itself, set in a 1960s, slightly surreal alternate world (where sea monsters exist), looks great, as you’d expect since del Toro has never struggled with world building. The attention to detail is magnificent, and if del Toro is able to find energy anywhere it’s in his sets, props and creatures. As much as I respect del Toro, I realize I’ve only truly enjoyed two of his movies - Pan’s Labyrinth and Hellboy - in part because he’s better at imagining worlds than telling complete, compelling stories (blasphemy, I realize!).

And ultimately, The Shape of Water just isn’t very interesting. It has the components of an interesting movie, but the story itself is oddly straightforward, albeit with quirks and Creature from the Black Lagoon as the male love interest. As a love story, I didn’t care (how can you, when one of the leads looks like a leftover from Hellboy). As whatever else, there isn’t as much there as would first appear.

The Shape of Water isn’t without its merits, but it’s a gorgeous film that unfortunately treads water at the surface rather than dive deep.

Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.

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