Top Ten Movies of 2017 — Number Four

shape

There’s no doubt that Guillermo del Toro’s sympathies lie with the monsters. In that respect, The Shape of Water is no revelation. Instead it is — marvelously, beautifully — an expression of del Toro’s worldview so perfectly, precisely rendered that the film feels like a closing argument in a life’s artistic debate. Set in 1962, the film follows Elisa (Sally Hawkins), a custodian at a high security government facility. When an amphibious, humanoid being (Doug Jones) is brought into one of the labs, Elisa is immediately taken by the waterlogged beast, stirring love, bravery, and other deep emotions. Just as del Toro’s wondrous Pan’s Labyrinth was as much about the dangers wrought by cruel humans as any threats from demons of the underworld, The Shape of Water gets its considerable power from its wide-ranging sympathies for outsiders of all stripes, from the closeted gay artist played with grace and invention by Richard Jenkins to Elisa’s protective cohort (Octavia Spencer), a black woman sadly well-conditioned in holding her tongue. The screenplay (co-credited to del Toro and Vanessa Taylor) balances the story threads moving in tandem through the film with care and insight, letting matters unfold in ways that are less wildly novel than invested with piercing truth. Working with cinematographer Dan Lautsen and art and costume direction teams that do sterling work, del Toro crafts a world of vivid beauty. Whether or not The Shape of Water is del Toro’s best film, it is surely the cinematic effort that is truest to his very being. Rarely does a film feel so distinctly like a pure manifestation of a director’s soul.