‘The Shape of Water’ Review: The Most Magical Film of the Year

Drew Dietsch
Movie Reviews Movies
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Review Essentials
  • Pure movie magic
  • Lovable characters
  • A powerful romance
  • Thrilling conflict
  • Incredible production design
  • One of 2017's best films

Guillermo del Toro is one of the masters of movie magic. His films are intricately designed worlds populated with wondrous creatures and bursting with visual splendor. The Shape of Water is no different.

Actually, it might be his most magical film yet.

Tale as Old as Time

shape of water feature 2
The love between these characters is an absolute treat.

The story revolves around the relationship between a mute woman named Elisa (Sally Hawkins) and a mysterious aquatic monster (Doug Jones) who is being experimented on by government scientists. The fact that these two characters must learn to communicate without speaking is a testament to the power of both the actors and the story. Without ever saying a word, they are able to convey a litany of emotions that immediately makes us fall in love with them.

And you will fall in love with them. The Shape of Water features the most harrowing and heartwarming romance of the year. Every scene between the two is spellbinding, culminating in a moment so transcendent that I can’t bear to spoil it for you. Suffice to say, it’s a sequence that you won’t see coming but once it happens, you will be swept off your feet.

A Sight to Behold

shape of water behind the scenes
Sally Hawkins on the set of 'The Shape of Water'.

The production design alone is enough to take your breath away. Del Toro populates his film with a number of immaculately designed sets that emphasize the world these characters inhabit. It goes to show how important a real set can be when building a believable place for a story to take place in.

But even if the sets weren’t astounding — and they are — the effects used to bring the Amphibian Man to life are jaw-dropping. The combination of prosthetics and digital work is seamless, and Doug Jones imbues the creature with a complete soul. You see the creature as a frightened animal, a regal being, and a genuine romantic lead. It’s a bravura performance that will go down as one of the best monster portrayals in film history.

A Thrilling Chase

shape of water amphibian man
The Amphibian Man (Doug Jones) is both mesmerizing and scary.

But what about the plot? Does it provide a satisfying propulsion for these two characters? Absolutely. The crux of the film is about Elisa and her attempt to free the Amphibian Man. She has to outwit the tyrannical government agent (Michael Shannon) that runs the project and even enlist help from her kindly neighbor (Richard Jenkins) and one of the scientists (Michael Stuhlbarg) who is hiding a significant secret.

The movie never lags and gives every character time to shine as well as prove vital to the narrative and its pacing. It’s a masterful balancing act that only makes you want to revisit these characters and their individual struggles. Even typing this is compelling me to immediately watch the movie again.

Is The Shape of Water Good?

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The images in this film are so damn beautiful.

It’s an unadulterated celebration of classical romance, monster movies (specifically Creature from the Black Lagoon), and the captivating sorcery of filmmaking. If you have any love of the moving power of cinema, you absolutely cannot miss this. There is no question that it’s one of the greatest films of 2017, and it could possibly be the best movie Guillermo del Toro has ever made.

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