Guillermo del Toro abandons his recent efforts at delivering alt-blockbusters and curating photography for interior design catalogs with The Shape of Water. A mute-mermaid romance set against a backdrop of Cold War-era espionage, del Toro’s latest showcases typically gorgeous production design that actually serves a purpose: the film jumps between the sterile blues and greens of a laboratory and the warmer colors and elegant decor of a working class 1950s apartment. Shape retains this scheme throughout, a thoughtful touch that both underscores the period setting and narrative stakes.
As is the case with most del Toro films, though, the director can’t help but get in his own way from time to time: plot developments are rushed, leaving certain sequences feeling undervalued and the thematics a bit didactic, especially in the more earnest moments. Thankfully, del Toro has focused on the micro here, populating his film with some of the most memorable characters he’s written; some delicate visual flourishes; and an outré, irony-free love story. It’s the small, rather than the big, that impresses most here, and it proves a welcome return to the director’s modest origins.
Published as part of Toronto International Film Festival 2017 | Dispatch 1.