Film review: The Shape of Water is a powerful, sublime work of art

Sally Hawkins as Elisa with Doug Jones as the creature in The Shape Of Water. Picture: TWENTIETH CEN

Sally Hawkins as Elisa with Doug Jones as the creature in The Shape Of Water. Picture: TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX/KERRY HAYES - Credit: Twentieth Century Fox/Kerry Hayes

Since announcing himself with seminal vampire horror Cronos (1993) and garnering further acclaim with Pan’s Labyrinth (2005), Guillermo del Toro has established himself as one of the finest living directors of fantasy cinema.

With his latest feature, The Shape of Water, the writer-director has delivered one of his most arresting and moving works.

Set in 1960s America the film sees a romantic bond form between mute cleaner Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins) and an amphibious creature (Doug Jones) being held in a government facility.

It is a relationship that in less dextrous hands could easily descend into the absurd.

However, both del Toro and his actors have such a firm grasp of the characters that the authenticity of the relationship that forms between them is never in doubt.

In a near silent performance Hawkins is stunning, her expressive face beautifully capturing both Eliza’s strength and her fragility. Jones is equally spellbinding. Completely hidden by scaly prosthetics the actor lends a pained gracefulness to the animalistic creature.

Praise must also be given to Michael Shannon whose terrifying, bigoted government agent Richard Strickland will surely spark comparisons with certain current political figures.

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It is Del Toro, however, who is the real star; together with cinematographer Dan Laustsen and set designers Jeffrey A. Melvin and Shane Vieau he beautifully navigates Eliza and the creature’s tender relationship, expertly conjuring the sense of wonder and terror of his previous works.

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