Theatre & Reviews

The Shape of Water reviewed

Starring: Sally Hawkins, Octavia Spencer, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Michael Stuhlbarg, Cyndy Day, David Hewlett, Doug Jones,

Director: Guillermo Del Toro

Classification: 16 LVNS

As Oscar time draws nearer, one of the most hyped films is “The Shape of Water, ” a bizarre exercise into the realms of fantasy.

The film is set against the backdrop of the Cold War era in America (circa 1963), which celebrated Mexican director Guillermo Del Toro has captured in meticulous detail. His imagery is vividly depicted in every facet and often dazzles.

British actress Sally Hawkins plays Elisa, a lonely mute, who spends her days in a hidden high-security government laboratory where she works cleaning out toilets and scrubbing floors. It’s a dreary life of silence and isolation. Her co-worker is the motor-mouth Zelda (Octavia Spencer) who looks out for her. However, Elisa’s life is changed forever when she and Zelda discover a secret classified experiment, a human-like creature (Doug Jones) captured from the South American jungle.

Elisa bonds with the amphibian and slowly falls in love with it, realising that it has intelligence and they can communicate through sign language. Obviously they have to keep this “relationship” a secret, but things come to a head and Elisa is forced to “kidnap” the creature from the lab and re-home it in her tiny apartment above a movie theatre. The film’s striking chord is that both Elisa and this underwater monster are tortured outcasts.

“The Shape of Water” is a fairy tale masquerading as a horror story that, for me, doesn’t hold water. Its absurd fantasy premise reminded me of those B-Grade horror flicks about The Creature From the Black Lagoon (of which Del Torro admits he was a fan).This gilled apparition could be its distant cousin.

The characters are either good or bad. There is no grey area. Her co-worker Zelda and her neighbour Giles (Richard Jenkins), a struggling commercial artist, are good people who are caught up with the madness.

The villain of the piece is Richard Strickland, a greedy sadist played with relish by Michael Shannon at his nastiest, who captured the creature, brought it to New York in a tank, and who has plans for it. There is also a Russian spy (Michael Stuhlbarg) at the facility who is reporting to his Russian masters on the “find.”

All in all, “The Shape of Water” was disappointing, considering the vision and visual beauty shown in “Pan’s Labyrinth,” and it struggles to be simultaneously scary and poignant.

About the author

Peter Feldman

Peter has been a journalist and arts critic for almost 50 years and served on The Star in various capacities for 35 years, ending up as a specialist writer on films, music and theatre. During that time he travelled extensively on assignments and interviewed many international film and pop stars, both in South Africa and overseas. He also covered some of South Africa's biggest film and musical events. He was one of only two South African journalists to be invited by Steven Spielberg to the Hook film junket in LA in 1991 where he interviewed the famous director as well as Dustin Hoffman and the late Robin Williams. He attended the gala James Bond premiere in London in 1981 and did an iconic interview in a Rolls Royce with Roger Moore who played Bond. He spent a week touring England with Queen prior to their Sun City visit in 1983, interviewed a host of international stars on films sets in Hollywood and London and was the first local journalist to nail an interview with The Rolling Stones prior to their SA visit in 1995.
He is active in the freelance field and his work has appeared in a variety of South African newspapers and magazines. He has also worked on TV and radio (ChaiFM 101.9) in his specialist capacity. Over the years Feldman has been the recipient of several awards for his contribution to music journalism and the SA record industry. He is a recent recipient of the Standard Bank Joy of Jazz award in recognition for his long standing journalistic support for the arts. He wrote lyrics for some top artists, including Sipho Mabuse, and had a hit disco single, "Video Games," which was released in 1988. He coined the phrase "Local is Lekker" which he used in his columns in The Star Tonight and broadcast in the 70s on David Gresham's popular afternoon show on Springbok Radio.

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