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The Shape of Water review

Fox Searchlight Pictures

Fox Searchlight Pictures

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The 2018 race for the Academy Awards most prestigious prize, Best Picture, was rife with stiff competition. With several directors making outstanding debuts with films such as “Lady Bird” and “Get Out,” as well as several enthralling historical epics like “Dunkirk” and “Darkest Hour,” the nominations couldn’t have been better. Among other films, my personal favorite of the nominations was “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”. So when Guillermo del Toro’s “The Shape of Water” won Best Picture during last month’s Oscars, I knew I needed to investigate. What I found was a pleasant story about acceptance, love and what it means to be human.

“The Shape of Water” is the tale of a mute janitor in a 1960s secret government facility who falls in love with a fish-man straight out of “Creature from the Black Lagoon.” The movie is an open love letter to film history as a whole, borrowing lots of its elements from landmark and cult classics.

The first thing that you need to know about this film is just how beautiful it is. Between the cinematography and set design, you are immersed in this offbeat fairy tale from the get-go. The world does not feel real, but as though it has sprung from the pages of a grim picture book. The colors, the lighting and the sets all marvelously work together to set the tone of this visual wonder.

One of “The Shape of Water’s” greatest accomplishments is its villain. Everything from his makeup and costumes to his writing and performance creates an antagonist so potent that his mere presence in a scene leaves the audience feeling uncomfortable. Colonel Strickland, played by Michael Shannon, can only be described as sinister. I am honestly disgusted just thinking about this character.

The fairytale story of “The Shape of Water” is simultaneously heartfelt and grim, sincere and violent. It deftly walks a line between a heartwarming romance and tale of humanity and a dark noir conflict between shadowed governments. As fantastic as that sounds, it is not a movie for everyone.

Now, as much as I can hype the movie up with lavish rhetoric, the movie at its core is still a janitor falling in love with a fish-man, and it might be a bit boring for some. After I watched the film, I was left with a feeling of confusion. I knew I had just watched a ‘great’ film, but I didn’t know if I had really enjoyed it. The film straddled the divide between “art” and “entertainment,” and in the end, I don’t think I can recommend this film if you’re purely looking for the latter.

“The Shape of Water” won Best Picture among a slew of great nominations. Guillermo del Toro’s adult fairy tale may not have been the most experimental, or the most gripping, or the most meaningful, or the most original of the nominations, but it seemed to be the right ‘pick’ for the Academy, and it is certainly a great movie nonetheless.

The Parkway West Pathfinder gives “The Shape of Water” an 8/10.

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