It is the case with some films that their plot descriptions don’t actually do them justice.
Take, for example, Mad Max: Fury Road where the plot is quite literally the characters driving into the desert for half the film then turning around and driving back on themselves for the other half. Regardless of this it is one of the best films I have ever seen and is, as Kyle Smith states for the New York Post, a story truly about ‘feminist revolt’. In this way the same can be said for Guillermo del Toro’s latest work The Shape of Water, which set in Cold War-era Baltimore follows mute government laboratory janitor Elisa’s love affair with a Creature from the Black Lagoon-type humanoid amphibian. At a quick glance, the film sounds like a B-movie that would play on the Syfy channel at 2am but that is not necessarily a bad thing because alongside the B-movie quirks is a classic tale-as-old-as-time fairy tale.
Initially poised as a good old-fashioned Creature Feature, The Shape of Water somehow manages to negate the creature-ness of itself and instead creates a love story with a beating centre. From their first meeting, as Elisa cleans the laboratory in which the Creature is kept, del Toro’s sets them up as star crossed lovers, two people (note: I’m using that term loosely) from different worlds who are united by their shared loneliness. As they bond during Elisa’s lunchbreaks she shares her food with the entrapped Creature and teaches him sign language so they can communicate. It’s a strange sort of tenderness that is uncommon for a del Toro film but Sally Hawkins gentle performance as Elisa makes it effortlessly believable.
The B-movie nature of the film is a clever pastiche which makes the genre feel less of a mockery and more of a chic art form. The stylish joviality of the story allows us to suspend our disbelief just that little bit so that while we won’t question the legitimacy of a human-amphibian monster relationship, nor will we certainly question why a lowly janitor has unfettered access to a top-secret government project. But by suspending our disbelief and leaving our qualms at the cinema door we are treated to some truly creative and beautiful cinematic moments. My personal favourite being one where Elisa and the Creature fill a bathroom entirely with water; naked, floating amongst the toiletries and making love the scene has distinctly Disney-ish charm that’s just a little bit weird and sexy too.