The 400-Word Review: The Shape of Water

By Sean Collier

December 27, 2017

The water... the shape of it... is... is... water shaped!

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The Shape of Water is the tenth feature from Guillermo del Toro and his best film to date.

The Shape of Water is a love story, pairing mute janitor Elisa Esposito (played by Sally Hawkins in a performance that brims with emotion, using expression and gesture in the way a prima ballerina uses dance) and a humanoid cryptid dubbed Amphibian Man (played by Doug Jones in a razor-sharp, 21st-century revival of the bygone theatrical tradition of mask work).

The Shape of Water is a grand romance, as the two characters are brought together not by contrivance or circumstance but by a sort of gravity of understanding; both dream of bigger worlds from within the walls they inhabit, both lack the words to convey their emotions to those around them, both feel simply and deeply.

The Shape of Water is an allegorical fable of patriarchal dominance, set in an era when the iron-fisted rule of white men over the world’s affairs was never questioned and yet could be subverted by the tenacity and insistence of those whom society dubbed “other,” should they find the strength to band together.

The Shape of Water is a stunning ensemble effort, as Richard Jenkins, Octavia Spencer, Michael Stuhlbarg and Michael Shannon offer fine performances which — if they cannot quite rival the breathtaking work from Hawkins and Jones — anchor, enrich and enhance the film.


The Shape of Water is a loving tribute to The Creature from the Black Lagoon; Jones’ suit (a practical effect, which should again demonstrate the continued superiority of such efforts) is clearly influenced by that classic of early horror, but this film also imbues that icon of celluloid with the same agency and pathos that cinema routinely gives his much larger counterpart, King Kong.

The Shape of Water is a horror movie, of sorts, inasmuch as del Toro’s previous work, Pan’s Labyrinth, was one — that is to say, not by conventional definition, but certainly by essence.

The Shape of Water is a visual masterpiece, washing every frame in a soothing, vivid palette of blue and green (shades which make later interruptions of crimson all the more jarring).

The Shape of Water is a singular and distinct film, as memorable as it is lovely and as haunting as it is gorgeous.

The Shape of Water is certainly one of the year’s best movies; it just might be the very best.

My Rating: 10/10

Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at



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