The Shape of Water



01 December 2017| No Comments on The Shape of Water     by Sean Chavel



Drama, Romance, Dark Fantasy. The Shape of Water has earmarks for creativity, for sure. I think people make way too much of Guillermo del Toro’s directing talent however, who to me, creates an atmosphere here that is akin to a tomato splat factory coated in mildew. It’s slavish and over-the-top. Set around the early 1960’s, a mute outcast named Elisa (Sally Hawkins) works at a government top secret laboratory that currently houses “an asset,” an underwater creature with intelligence, or merman. The merman is systematically abused, but Elisa is in love and plots to free the sensitive but two-dimensional (at best) creature. Quick questions: What else does this laboratory actually do besides house this creature? What were they working on before it showed up?

The movie’s other business is to flesh out several characters and tell us more than what we want to know. Michael Shannon, a favorite actor of mine, is likely to get a lot of attention for playing the cruel bad guy in charge of abusing the merman, when he should have been acclaimed for excellent work in “99 Homes.” Shannon’s nasty and unsanitary character Strickland even gets a few scenes set at his home, as we see how self-important he is by his wife and kids. He even has self-serving sex with his wife, which is contrast to the pure love and desired sex Elisa has for this creature. Is his sex scene pertinent or gratuitous? I say gratuitous, but I’ll leave it to you.

Richard Jenkins is a down-and-out commercial artist who has a crush on a male at a pie-serving diner, and for sure, he’s bound for embarrassment. Octavia Spencer is the chatty good friend at work, whose dialogue we need since there is none for Elisa, but she has a lump of a husband at home. Michael Stuhlbarg (“A Serious Man”) is a remarkable actor who turns out to be a traitor, yes, but also has as much compassionate emotions shared for the merman as Elisa. But what is with all those torpid scenes he has with fellow Russians?

Many audiences have been enchanted by “The Shape of Water,” but why has its most beautiful scene, an embrace between the two outcasts within an overflowed bathroom that has become a tank, been edited so short as to barely felt? Del Toro’s film is dripping with atmosphere, but to me, a lot of that is just sludge and gloom. “Pan’s Labyrinth” by del Toro was pretty stunning and emotionally moving, but this movie rarely lifted my spirits.


123 Minutes. Rated PG-13.


Film Cousins: “The Spirit of the Beehive” (1973, Spain); “Splash” (1984); “Edward Scissorhands” (1990); “Pan’s Labyrinth” (2006, Spain).

Shape_of_Water _Poster - 2017

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Sean Chavel

About The Author / Sean Chavel

Sean Chavel is a Hollywood based author and movie reviewer. He is the Executive Director of, a new website that has adapted the movie review site genre by introducing moodbased and movie experience based reviews.


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