The Shape of Water - Review

26 November 2023
Guillermo del Toro's "The Shape of Water" is a cinematic ode to the unspoken and the unseen, a film that eloquently dances between the realms of fantasy and harsh reality.

Released in 2017, this film stands as a testament to del Toro's ability to craft narratives that are as visually enchanting as they are emotionally resonant. It straddles multiple genres, blending elements of romantic drama, horror, and espionage into a cohesive and compelling narrative.

At first glance, "The Shape of Water" might seem like a departure from the conventional. However, it is quintessentially del Toro – steeped in the fantastical, yet grounded in human emotion and experience. The film is set during the tension-filled era of the Cold War, a period rife with conflict and suspicion, which serves as a contrasting backdrop to the tender and intimate story at its heart.

This film is not just a tale of love and connection; it is also a subtle critique of societal norms and prejudices. It challenges the viewer to reconsider their perceptions of normalcy and otherness, urging a deeper understanding of empathy and acceptance. Del Toro's vision brings to life a world where the marginalized and voiceless find their strength and voice.

"The Shape of Water" resonates with a sense of wonder and melancholy, a tribute to the forgotten and misunderstood. It's a film that invites viewers to delve into the depths of their own perceptions and emotions, promising a journey that is as unexpected as it is beautiful. In this review, we will explore the intricate layers of del Toro's masterpiece, dissecting its themes, aesthetics, and the profound impact it leaves on its audience.

the shape of water film review

Synopsis of The Shape of Water

Set against the backdrop of Cold War-era America in 1962, "The Shape of Water" unfolds as an otherworldly fairy tale. Directed by the visionary Guillermo del Toro, this film blurs the lines between fantasy and reality, weaving a story that is as much a romantic epic as it is a homage to classic monster films.

The narrative centers around Elisa, a mute cleaning lady working in a high-security government laboratory. Her life, marked by routine and silence, takes a turn when she discovers the lab's classified secret—a mysterious, amphibious creature held captive for experimentation. As Elisa forms a unique bond with the creature, she finds herself in a complex web of government intrigue and burgeoning love.

"The Shape of Water" is a visually stunning piece, rich in lush, saturated colors and intricate period details that evoke a sense of both nostalgia and timelessness. It's a story of loneliness, empathy, and the transformative power of love, challenging the notions of what it means to be human and to connect across the most improbable of divides. Del Toro masterfully crafts a tale that is not just about the meeting of two different beings, but also a poignant commentary on the societal outcasts and the voiceless.


Themes and Symbolism of The Shape of Water

"The Shape of Water" is rich in thematic complexity, intertwining themes of love, isolation, and the concept of the 'other.' The water motif, pervasive throughout the film, symbolizes fluidity and transformation. It serves as a medium for Elisa's connection with the creature, representing a space free from societal constraints. The recurring imagery of rain, rivers, and baths signifies renewal and purity, contrasting sharply with the oppressive and sterile environment of the laboratory.

Del Toro also employs color to convey mood and character. The use of green, in its various shades, often represents the government, control, and the future, while the reds are indicative of passion, love, and life. These color palettes help to create a visual dichotomy between the cold, mechanical world of the antagonist and the warm, vibrant world of Elisa and her friends.

Character Development

Elisa, portrayed by Sally Hawkins (Paddington), is a character of depth and complexity. Despite her muteness, she communicates profoundly through her expressions, gestures, and interactions. Her loneliness and sense of otherness resonate deeply, making her connection with the creature, an entity equally misunderstood, all the more poignant.

The creature, an embodiment of the unknown and the feared, is portrayed with a sense of dignity and intelligence. Doug Jones' performance, though devoid of dialogue, is powerful and emotive. The gradual development of the creature's personality and its relationship with Elisa is a testament to del Toro's skill in character development.

Supporting characters like Giles, Zelda, and Strickland are not mere backdrops but are fully realized individuals, each representing different facets of society and human nature. Their interactions and personal journeys add depth to the narrative, enriching the film's tapestry
Visual and Sound Design

The visual splendor of "The Shape of Water" is undeniable. The cinematography by Dan Laustsen is both beautiful and purposeful, creating a world that feels at once real and otherworldly. The use of underwater sequences is particularly striking, creating a sense of ethereality and freedom.

The production design and set pieces are meticulously crafted, immersing the audience in a bygone era that is both nostalgic and eerily pertinent. The attention to detail in the costumes and sets not only adds authenticity but also serves as an extension of the characters and their circumstances.

The film's score, composed by Alexandre Desplat, is a character in itself. The music's whimsical and melancholic tones perfectly underscore the film's emotional beats, enhancing the narrative's impact without overwhelming it.

Narrative and Pacing

"The Shape of Water" is a masterclass in storytelling. Del Toro's screenplay, co-written with Vanessa Taylor, weaves a complex narrative that balances fantasy and reality. The pacing of the film is deliberate, allowing the story and characters to breathe and evolve naturally. The narrative structure, while unconventional, is seamless, guiding the audience through a range of emotions without ever feeling disjointed or forced.

The film's climax and resolution are both satisfying and thought-provoking, leaving the audience with lingering questions about love, humanity, and the nature of existence. It's a story that stays with you long after the credits roll, a testament to its narrative prowess and emotional depth.

Directorial Vision

Guillermo del Toro's direction in "The Shape of Water" is a critical element of its success. Known for his love of monsters and the fantastical, del Toro uses these elements not just for spectacle, but to explore deeper human themes. His vision is evident in every frame of the film, from the intricate production design to the nuanced performances he coaxes from his actors. 

Del Toro blends genres effortlessly, combining romance, horror, and spy thriller elements into a cohesive narrative. His ability to create a visually stunning yet emotionally grounded film demonstrates his unique talent in storytelling and his deep understanding of the genre.

Impact and Reception of The Shape of Water

"The Shape of Water" received widespread critical acclaim upon its release. It struck a chord with audiences and critics alike, praised for its originality, emotional depth, and technical excellence. The film was a significant player during awards season, culminating in winning the Academy Award for Best Picture. 

It also earned del Toro the Best Director Oscar, acknowledging not just this film but his contribution to cinema as a whole. Its success marked a turning point for genre films, proving that science fiction and fantasy could be taken seriously by the most prestigious award bodies and could resonate on a deeply emotional and artistic level.


In "The Shape of Water," Guillermo del Toro has created more than just a film; he has crafted a piece of art that challenges and enchants. It is a celebration of the odd, the misunderstood, and the overlooked. This film stands as a testament to del Toro's vision and skill as a filmmaker, and as a beacon for the kind of storytelling that can be achieved in science fiction and fantasy cinema. It's a must-watch for anyone who believes in the power of stories to change how we see the world and each other.

For those enchanted by Guillermo del Toro's unique storytelling in "The Shape of Water," exploring his other works is a journey into a world where fantasy and reality merge with profound narratives. "Pan's Labyrinth" (2006) is an essential viewing, a dark fairy tale set against the backdrop of post-Civil War Spain, blending the real and the fantastical in a haunting coming-of-age story. "Crimson Peak" (2015), a visually stunning gothic romance, showcases del Toro’s flair for atmospheric settings and intricate character relationships. 

For a dive into comic book-inspired cinema, "Hellboy" (2004) and its sequel "Hellboy II: The Golden Army" (2008) combine action, humor, and del Toro’s signature visual style. "The Devil's Backbone" (2001), a ghost story set in an orphanage during the Spanish Civil War, is another example of how del Toro weaves historical context with supernatural elements. Each of these films carries del Toro's distinct touch – a blend of rich visual storytelling, deeply human characters, and a seamless integration of the fantastical elements with the narrative's core.


Post a Comment

Powered by Blogger.

About the author Jimmy Jangles

My name is Jimmy Jangles, the founder of The Astromech. I have always been fascinated by the world of science fiction, especially the Star Wars universe, and I created this website to share my love for it with fellow fans.

At The Astromech, you can expect to find a variety of articles, reviews, and analysis related to science fiction, including books, movies, TV, and games.
From exploring the latest news and theories to discussing the classics, I aim to provide entertaining and informative content for all fans of the genre.

Whether you are a die-hard Star Trek fan or simply curious about the world of science fiction, The Astromech has something for everyone. So, sit back, relax, and join me on this journey through the stars!
Back to Top