TIFF Review: ‘The Shape of Water’ is Awe-Inspiring and Magical

When it is over you might feel you dreamt it, so clear and pristine are the images, so awe-inspiring and magical the story, yet equally unbelievable. Nothing like this has ever hit the screen before, it is quite simply a miracle of a film.

Eliza (Sally Hawkins) is a mute janitor working the night shift at a top-secret government facility. She and her friend, the chatty Delilah (Octavia Spencer) spend their nights cleaning a secret place filled with Cold War Operatives and scientists. Into the lab is brought a strange amphibian creature worshipped as a God in South America, captured, here to be studied, killed and dissected.

Eliza strikes a curious friendship with the strange creature once it knows she means him no harm. It responds to music, learns her sign language, learns to trust and to love. They become friends and something a great deal more. When it becomes clear the government means to harm the creature, she decides to break it out, not realizing the depth of her feelings or the trouble she is asking for.

Let me state, right now, emphatically that Sally Hawkins without question the frontrunner to win Academy Award for Best Actress. She is a wonder, utterly enchanting with a sly smile on her face, slightly flirtatious, slightly sexual and when she needs it, utterly mocking. She fearless in her nakedness, unashamed of her vulnerability. Her character is brave in every way, and will descend to the depths of hell for this creature.

Richard Jenkins gives a lovely performance as her neighbor, a gay artist struggling to find love in the world, and who loves Eliza enough to believe in her and help her. As always Spencer gives a fine performance and Michael Stuhlbarg is wonderfully compassionate and kind as a scientist.

If there is a monster in the film it is Michael Shannon’s sadistic government security operative, the man who found and captured the creature and gets off torturing it with his beloved cattle prod. A bully, but a psychotic, maniac to boot he is a study in pure cruelty and Eliza knows it. Everything in the film works from the breathtakingly: the cinematography, the haunting music, the sound, to the creation of the creature, it is utterly flawless.

The magic within and that rapturous performance from Hawkins will sweep you away and make your heart soar. Along the way the film strokes, gently, your soul.

Rating: 5/5

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