TIFF 2017: The Shape Of Water Is Guillermo Del Toro’s Finest Hour

the shape of water

Who’s Behind It

Directed by Guillermo del Toro, written by del Toro and Vanessa Taylor.

Who’s In It

Sally Hawkins, Richard Jenkins, Doug Jones, Michael Shannon, Octavia Spencer, Michael Stuhlbarg.

Who’ll Love It

Fans of classic Hollywood, endearing monsters, and/or fairy tale romance.

What’s It About

Elisa (Sally Hawkins) is a janitor—who also happens to be mute—at an American government laboratory in 1963. When a mysterious creature (Doug Jones) arrives at this facility submerged in a tank of water, she is instantly intrigued. Over time, Elisa’s curiosity grows into something closer to love, but to her great shock and concern, she discovers that this creature is being abused by the vicious Colonel Strickland (Michael Shannon). Realizing the instability of this situation, Elisa conceives and executes a plan to set him free—with the help of her neighbor (Richard Jenkins), a fellow janitor (Octavia Spencer), and a good-hearted scientist (Michael Stuhlbarg).

Why You Should See It

For over two decades, Guillermo del Toro has made good genre films that usually work better when he’s talking about them than when you’re actually watching them. With The Shape of Water, he has made a significant leap forward, exceeding even his most grandiose promises—and delivering arguably his finest film to date. Working in collaboration with screenwriter Vanessa Taylor, del Toro has created a vivid fantasy 1963 that inventively merges iconic fictions (the monster is straight out of Creature from the Black Lagoon) and realities (there’s a sub plot about Cadillacs and a grand movie palace right below Elisa’s apartment) from the period.

As in his earlier films, del Toro’s storytelling relies heavily on simple binaries (innocence vs. corruption, victims vs. villains, etc.), but this strategy is far more effective this time around. In fact, the child-like wonder of Elisa and her relationship with the creature derives much of its impact from its stark contrast to the unfeeling cruelty of Strickland.

While just about everything in this film works—the cast is uniformly stellar—its greatest triumph is the central romance, particularly an out-there, genre-bending musical number that serves as a potent metaphor for love and the way it liberates these characters from their defining restrictions.

When You Can See It

Tuesday, September 12 at 3PM (Elgin); Friday, September 15 at 9PM (Elgin); Sunday, September 17 at 6:30PM (Elgin). Tickets available here. Opens wide December 8. Check out the trailer below.