starring Sally Hawkins, Doug Jones, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins
screenplay by Guillermo del Toro & Vanessa Taylor
directed by Guillermo del Toro
by Walter Chaw I watched Guillermo del Toro's The Shape of Water in a packed auditorium in Telluride, CO as a torrential rainstorm pounded the roof of what is, outside of the festival, an ice-skating rink, perched there with a park in front of it, the headwaters of the San Miguel to one side and the mountains to the other and all around. As the main character, cleaning lady Eliza (Sally Hawkins), turned on water for her bath, the cascading cacophony in the theatre joined in with a warm insularity I always equate with the Mandarin term for "cozy": two words that mean, or at least sound like they mean, "warm" and "noisy." The Shape of Water is like that, too, a gothic romance in the new del Toro style (after Crimson Peak, which, for me, was more noisy than warm, but mileage varies), which del Toro introduced as the evocation of a fantasy he had as a child upon watching Creature from the Black Lagoon in which the Creature falls in love with the girl and they live happily ever after. That's it, and were that truly it, The Shape of Water would be an instant classic rather than an acquired taste, perhaps--a future cult classic, certainly, that is forgiven for its odd digressions while justly-celebrated for its audacity. It's a triumph when it focuses in on the essential loneliness of misfits (the melancholic, Romanticist engine that drives del Toro's Hellboy movies), but in a subplot involving Russian spies, it becomes for long minutes time spent away from what works in favour of time spent with what doesn't. When del Toro has allowed intrusions like this in the past (see: his early masterpieces The Devil's Backbone and Pan's Labyrinth), it's been up to us to infer the connection between his dark fables and his political concerns. Here he brings the subtext into text at a cost to the "warm/noisy" coziness of his work. For del Toro, insularity is a strength.