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Film Review: The Shape of Water @ London Film Festival 2017

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The latest outing from Guillermo Del Torro is the beautiful, hypnotic and totally mesmerising The Shape of Water.

Set in an alternative Cold War context, this is the most unlikely fairy tale backdrop, yet works so seamlessly and effortlessly. The film’s themes and narrative extend far beyond the boundaries of any one genre, yet borrows various genre qualities and combines to form a romantic fantasy thriller.

Set in a secretive government complex, a mute cleaner, Elisa (Sally Hawkins) discovers an exotic amphibian creature known as "The Asset" whom she is immediately intrigued by and concerned for due to his confinement in a glass tank in his chained up state.

A woman of routine with only a couple of close friends, this new arrival at the facility totally captivates Elisa, spending her lunch breaks with the creature, playing him music and teaching him sign language.

This film is a sensory experience from beginning to end, from visually stunning scenes rich with detail, to the charming score which ranges from soft fairy-tale background music to authentic 60s tunes played directly from a record player. Without us even realising, The Shape of Water uses a colour palette on each scene so unique that it feels normal for the average viewer until you reach the end and realise Del Toro has visually hypnotised you with the subtle beauty of each scene.

The Shape of Water’s visual qualities certainly make for a surreal viewing experience, but adding to this is the individuality and quirks of each character. Elisa’s captivating silence is draws you in but her glowing personality is so strongly portrayed through her physical performance and the tangible passion in her sign language where she doesn’t need words to scream and shout.

Not to mention, Elisa’s relationship with "The Asset", though unusual in all senses of the word, is sensual and passionate in a beautiful way. Sally Hawkins is simply fantastic in this role and her performance is illuminated through the beauty of Del Toro’s direction.

The supporting cast bring even more character and quirks to the film, including Elisa’s closest friend at work Zelda (Octavia Spencer), who comments on how the finest minds in the country are working at the facility, yet “still manage to pee all over the floor”. She voices the things which Elisa can’t and brings a fantastic comic quality to the film.

Elisa’s best friend and next door neighbour Giles (Richard Genkins) is a struggling commercial artist who spends his freelance money on odd green pies - a random yet humorous quality to the film which contributes to the fantasy feel of the film (you’ve never seen a pie like this one).

Michael Shannon plays a classic Michael Shannon character, the hardened, fiery, villainous Strickland, who carries a baton with an electric charge through it. He also washes his hands before he pees and constantly chews on sweets which look like the 60s equivalent of Nerds. Small details like these make the characters and Shannon in particular strangely mesmerising and gripping.

However the standouts of the film are Elisa and the creature and the relationship they share. Their connection is crafted so gently and authentically that even a relationship as unusual as their is incredibly moving. It's the heart and soul of the narrative and its what takes the audiences to a different place when they watch.

The genius behind Del Toro’s crazy idea for this film is executed flawlessly. Its hypnotic, mesmerising, and utterly euphoric. This film is capable of having a physical effect on the viewer; it’s both soothing and thrilling, and a wholly sensory experience.

The Shape of Water screened as part of the 2017 BFI London Film Festival this October. Further details can be found here.

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