Del Toro Shows his Knowledge of Filmic Language in ‘The Shape of Water’

In Uncategorized on December 25, 2017 at 20:03


The first thing I noticed about ‘The Shape of Water’ is the color. Guillermo Del Toro and cinematographer Dan Laustsen utilize a muted yet vibrant pallete as if they splashed sepia tones on technicolor film stock. The light that filters throughout the scenes in the science lab, in the city, on the bus and in their homes enhances the tones. It’s not natural, it’s supranatural, creating a tone that is more real that realistic. The color and lighting brings out the full potential of the film medium. 

Layered on top of the color is the movement of the cameras that brings the audience into the action without taking away from the story. Like sentences in a piece of literature, the camera angles and movements are varied depending upon the needs of the scene. Sometimes the camera is running and sometimes it is framed in a still shot that is composed to enhance the drama. Often, the audience doesn’t know where to focus on in a shot. Should we look at the protagonist, the water, the entrance to the lab in the background, or the egg on the edge of the pool? 

Elisa Esposito, played by Sally Hawkin, is a cleaning woman at a military facility near Baltimore. The facility stores a secret ‘asset’ brought back from the Amazon by Agent Richard Strickland, played by Michael Shannon. Both the protagonist (Elisa) and antagonist (Strickland) are well defined though stereotypical. While personalities are more complex in real life, Strickland and Esposito clearly embody the dichotomy between our caring and domineering natures. There is nothing positive in Mr. Strickland and no ill intent in Elisa. The story is about what it means to be human, and within that framework, the characters are well drawn. 

Richard Jenkins as Elisa’s sympathetic neighbor Giles and Octavia Spencer as Elisa’s coworker Zelda Fuller both do good work as does the rest of the cast. The ‘Amphibian Man’ as he is credited in the film is both beatiful and scary. The make up and design department deserve some recognition for this outstanding work.  

The music is interesting and well chosen. It highlights certain plot elements and helps Elisa make a connection to the Amphibious Man. It’s charming and effective.

There were problems with the certain plot elements. Why was security so lax in the lab? Also, why were the Soviets in the film so inept? At least we didn’t get the stupid, brutish James Bond stereotypes of the Soviets in ‘The Shape of Water.’

Rating: Pay Full Price

“The Shape of Water” is a simple, lovely, endearing film by a team of artists that clearly know their film history.

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