Luckily, 'The Shape of Water' didn't disappoint me at all. For me, it's one of Del Toro's best and his best since 'Pan's Labyrinth'. It's a beautifully transfixing adult fairy tale with elements of 'Beauty and the Beast', 'Amelie' and 'Creature from the Black Lagoon', while showing a real sense of unsettlement and affectionate nostalgia from film and music from the golden age.
Everything here absorbs, right from the visually gorgeous, musically hauntingly beautiful and really quite wondrous opening to the genuinely unnervingly tense and powerful, in emotion and violent action, climax. The love story is very touching and has a lot of heart, the conflict provided by the as ice cold monster a villain as one can get brings chills up the spine, Elisa and Zelda's friendship has warmth and that between Elisa and Giles has charm and poignancy.
'The Shape of Water' is one of the best-looking films of the year bar none. There is a real fairy-tale, in both sheer other-worldly beauty and sometimes unsettlingly nightmarish, look to the cinematography. The production and costume design are meticulously detailed, evocative (one really is taken back to the Cold War's look and atmosphere) and atmospheric, while the creature design clearly looked like a lot of care and effort went into it and the editing has a natural and cohesive flow.
Alexandre Desplat's music score is ethereal and hauntingly beautiful, especially so in the opening scene, one of the best scored opening scenes of the year. The vivid sound mixing and editing helps it a lot, and the pre-existing music also makes a positive impression with the rendition of "You Never Know" touching the soul and haunting the mind. 'The Shape of Water' is one of the best examples of Del Toro's mastery of story-telling when the material is particularly good, like it is here and in 'Pan's Labyrinth', with all the different elements ideally balanced and just as strong individually.
Regarding the script, it's tightly structured, poetic, poignant, nostalgic, thought-provoking and with nothing inconsequential. What is done with the monster is a revelation, not just because the design is so rich in detail, expressive and real but Doug Jones masterfully brings nuances, chills and heartfelt emotion and makes the monster much more than a creature design that looks good but with no soul.
Can't fault the acting either. Sally Hawkins is one of the finest recent examples of conveying so many different emotions and nuances without saying a word, my personal favourite as of now of the nominees for this year's Best Actress Oscar category (yes even more so than Frances McDormand for 'Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri').
Octavia Spencer is humorously earthy and sympathetic and warmth and sincerity shines through every aspect of Richard Jenkins' performance. Michael Shannon has rarely been creepier than he is here and Michael Stuhlbarg is also fine.
In summary, unsettling and truly beautiful, one of the year's must sees. 10/10 Bethany Cox