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TIFF Review: The Shape of Water – “Stunning”

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A romance develops between a captured mysterious aquatic creature and a mute custodian at an American military lab during the Cold War.

Living in an apartment above a movie theatre is Elsa (Sally Hawkins), a mute custodian for an American military facility, who is friends with her gay artist neighbour Giles (Richard Jenkins) and co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer).  Life at work gets overturned with the arrival of a menacing federal agent named Strickland (Michael Shannon) and his captured prize, a humanoid amphibian from the Amazon River.  The plan is to dissect the creature so to help America get ahead of the Soviets in the space race.  Elsa befriends, falls in love with the lab experiment and goes about orchestrating a plan to rescue the object of her affection from captivity.

As with every faerie tale, there are dark undertones reflected in the malevolent and racist behaviour of Strickland but filmmaker Guillermo del Toro is able to counterbalance with a sense of hope provided by the kindness of Elsa.  Once again Doug Jones provides the heart and soul to a creature conceived by del Toro.  It is a daring choice to have the two lovers unable to speak, thereby, relying on mannerisms to express their feelings.   The visuals are stunning and the production design set in 1962 is impeccable. Everything is done to serve the story and not to overshadow the performances.  Sally Hawkins is stellar as usual, and the contributions of Octavia Spencer, Richard Jenkins, Michael Stuhlbarg and Michael Shannon are praiseworthy.  Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Best Actress and Best Director are not an imaginary possibility for The Shape of Water.

Trevor Hogg is a freelance video editor and writer who currently resides in Canada; he can be found at LinkedIn.

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