It deserves monstrous success at the cinema -The Shape of Water

by Shane Dillon
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WITH the entire country currently going into near meltdown over ‘The Beast from The East’, why not take a break to consider The What-The in The Water instead?

I refer, of course, to the mysterious creature at the heart of The Shape of Water (Cert 15A, 123 mins), which has been quietly sloshing about in Irish cinemas for a very short while now, but perhaps without the cultural cachet here that it’s enjoyed elsewhere.

After all, with so much focus on the IFTAs this, snowmageddon that, it’s understandable that this ‘creature feature’ (albeit one that’s also a period piece, set at the height of the Cold War), may have sailed, splashed or glub-glubbed under the radar of some Irish cinemagoers.

However, it’d be a real shame if Water fails to have the same impact here that it’s enjoyed in other markets, as while it’s something of a curate’s egg, its best parts are very, very good indeed.

At it’s core, there’s a Girl-Meets-Boy story splashing about in the background – at least, on the surface, in the most shallowest of dramatic waters.

But dive a little deeper, however, and director Guillermo del Toro soon pulls the audience into ever stranger narrative waters, twisting the narrative into something darker and stranger than conventional film fare, yet in the process finding a deeply humane story, like a pearl lost in the murk.

If you were making an ‘elevator pitch’ summary, you could largely rush through the film’s core plot thusly: ‘A quiet, mute cleaner working at a secret US lab during the Cold War discovers that it’s also home to an imprisoned humanoid water creature, which she falls in love with and determines to help escape.’

Sounds simple, right? However, you’d barely plumb the depths of this yarn with that explanation, because there’s a lot more going on under the surface than this suggests.

While the strange water creature (played by Doug Jones) provides a fasinating fishy foil, the film has an even more mesmerising and exotic creature driving events along – Elisa (Sally Hawkins), the lowly cleaner.

Hawkins turns in a bravura performance that nails the praise she’s garnered, taking what could very easily have been an underwhelming character and role, but infusing Elisa with a raw courage and steely determination that her initially meek demeanour belies.

With Elisa, it’s hard not to think that still waters run deep indeed, with her innate humanity and quiet decency creating an everyman – or everywoman – to root for (even though Cleaner-Fishman romantic liaisons aren’t the catch of the day for most of us).

Throw in some great support work from the likes of the always reliable Octavia Spencer, Michael Shannon clearly having a whale of a time playing the inevitable bad guy, add in some other steady hands in key roles, and you have a great ensemble of solid character actors.

It’s also worth noting that at the very least, Water provides an interesting counterpart to the generally insipid romances still lazily languishing at the heart of too many films.

After all, with Elisa courageously stepping up as an unlikely agent of change, she creates a very sympathetic, driven heroine in a retro setting that resonates well with modern sensibilites.

Ultimately, even if fish out of water romances aren’t your thing, Del Toro’s latest will have you hooked…

Verdict: 8/10

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