Movie review: 'The Shape of Water'

Enchanting adult fantasy could be Guillermo del Toro's finest


‘Unable to perceive the shape of You, I find You all around me. Your presence fills my eyes with Your love, It humbles my heart, For You are everywhere” — Guillermo del Toro

As I usually do when I know a particularly remarkable film is due for release, I avoid watching its trailer. This is so I can experience it fresh and free of a marketing department’s idea of what its touchstones should be. I walked in to see Guillermo del Toro’s latest masterwork, “The Shape of Water,” eyes wide open and immediately knew this would be more than I could possibly imagine.

Del Toro is an accomplished storyteller. His work on films such as “The Devil’s Backbone,” “Hellboy” and “Pan’s Labyrinth” are breathtaking examples of cinematic artistry that vividly illustrate the epitome of the medium’s potential far beyond merely being the record of a big name celebrity’s performance or a studio’s attempt to grab headlines. “The Shape of Water” is the kind of movie every filmmaker should aspire to make — not imitate, mind you — but to reach into the depths of imagination to reveal stories that genuinely touch the heart and soul of the audience.

The film does that, beautifully.

But, keep in mind, the fables del Toro unspools are not bound by the delicate sensibilities of a repressed western aesthetic. Although rooted in fantasy, these are stories told with harsh realities to bring the viewer face-to-face with lessons hard-won and sometimes bloodied. This is seen, for instance, in “Pan’s Labyrinth,” which is set in Nazi-occupied Spain and features horrifying violence mixed with sublime storybook imagery.

This film features the marvelously talented actor, Sally Hawkins, as a mute cleaning woman named Elisa Esposito. She, with her friend Zelda Fuller (Octavia Spencer), quietly toil away at their job mopping up the messes made by mysterious U.S. government scientists at a top secret laboratory. The setting is Cold War America, circa 1962, and the secrets closely held in this lab may spell disaster or victory over the Communist threat.

One day, Elisa takes note of something living brought into the lab, escorted by the martinet security officer Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon). It is not human, but somehow fascinating to Elisa.

Elisa lives alone in a rundown apartment above a faded movie theater. Her only friend is a neighbor, a gay advertising artist named Giles (Richard Jenkins) who watches out for her. Elisa is a woman trapped by her circumstances, expresses her sexuality in water, and yet looks upon the world with a sense of wonder. All of this comes into play when she discovers what it is the government operatives found in a South American river and are closely guarding in a special water-filled tank.

Comparisons can be made here to “The Creature from the Black Lagoon” and maybe to Abe Sapian from “Hellboy” (who, with the Amphibian Man in 'The Shape of Water," were played by frequent Del Toro collaborator Doug Jones), but if you peel away all the easy touchstones and approach this movie with open eyes, there is a brilliant cinematic experience to be had.

You may even find yourself pausing to reflect on the poetry recited at the end as you let it wash through your imagination like teardrops in the rain.

“The Shape of Water” is rated R for sexual content, graphic nudity, violence and language.

This film is screening daily at Mitchell Storyteller 7 Theatres, 110 Old Talpa Cañón Road. For show times, tickets and additional information, call (575) 751-4245 or visit

Also showing in Taos

Darkest Hour

MPAA rating: PG-13 for some thematic material.

Movies at the TCA

This film was graded A- when first reviewed Jan. 11 in “Cinemafile.”

Scholars warn that the lens through which we view history is a vastly imperfect one. It is even more so when married to art.

In the case of “Darkest Hour,” the new film starring Gary Oldman as British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, the imperfections are light, and mostly in the interpretation director Joe Wright took of momentous events shaped as theatrically stylized storytelling. However, within this context, Oldman offers a stunning performance as the World War II leader who helped galvanize the British people against the impending threat of Nazi dictator Adolph Hitler.

Wright’s film is very much a companion piece to Christopher Nolan’s recent “Dunkirk.” It provides a different look at the same events in May 1940 (before the United States entered the war) concerning the epic crisis that befell virtually the entire British army. It was trapped by overwhelming Nazi forces closing in on them in France, a few miles across the English Channel. The film illustrates how Churchill, newly named as prime minister after his predecessor Neville Chamberlain was given a vote of no confidence, must deal with confusion, anxiety and appeals to placate Hitler by using Mussolini as a go-between. This, as is stated in the film, would have resulted in England becoming a “slave state.”

Churchill’s famous “We will never surrender” speech rings heavily as the spark needed to ignite domestic support.

In the end, firm resolve and no small measure of luck allowed 338,000 men to be rescued from almost certain death. Of these, approximately 215,000 were British and 123,000 were French. They were able to escape in 102,250, mostly civilian, British ships.

This film will be screened at 2 p.m. Sunday (Feb. 11), and at 7 p.m. Monday through Friday (Feb. 17).

Movies at the TCA film series, Taos Community Auditorium, 145 Paseo del Pueblo Norte. For tickets and additional information, call the Taos Center for the Arts at (575) 758-2052 or visit

Lady Bird

MPAA rating: R for language, sexual content, brief graphic nudity and teen partying

Mitchell Storyteller 7

In “Lady Bird,” Greta Gerwig reveals herself to be a bold new cinematic voice with her directorial debut, excavating both the humor and pathos in the turbulent bond between a mother and her teenage daughter.

Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) fights against but is exactly like her wildly loving, deeply opinionated and strong-willed mom (Laurie Metcalf), a nurse working tirelessly to keep her family afloat after Lady Bird’s father (Tracy Letts) loses his job.

Set in Sacramento, California in 2002, amid a rapidly shifting American economic landscape, “Lady Bird” is an affecting look at the relationships that shape us, the beliefs that define us and the unmatched beauty of a place called home.

This film will be screened daily.

Mitchell Storyteller 7 Theatres, 110 Old Talpa Cañón Road. For show times, tickets and additional information, call (575) 751-4245 or visit