"The Shape of Water"

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Guillermo Del Toro is a cinematic treasure. You can dislike the genres he tackles or the fanboy themes he is obsessed with, but he's a visualist in the truest sense of the word. In 2006 Del Toro finally made a film worthy of his immense talent: "Pan's Labyrinth." Everything clicked in that movie, it brought all sets of movie fans together to hail it for what it was: a masterpiece. This was no "Blade 2" or "Hellboy," instead it was a cinematic triumph with enough stunning images to pop your eyes in amazement. A modern day "Wizard Of Oz" with a schizophrenic little Dorothy, the most imaginatively created monsters and an open-ended finale that made us all talk about it when the lights came back on. Del Toro has always had a knack for visuals but never had the story to back it up - here he did. His last film was "Crimson Peak," which I very much admired for its visuals more than its tiresome story, was met with a polite shrug, but now he's back in "Pan's Labyrinth" territory "The Shape of Water."

“The Shape of Water” was written, produced, and directed by Del Toro. It takes place in the United States in 1963, where there’s a hidden, high-security government laboratory that is housing a secret experiment, sea-creature monster from Latin America kept chained in a water tank. Sally Hawkins and Octavia Spencer star in the film as two workers who stumble upon the classified experiment and try to save it. Hawkins' character not only wants to bring it salvation but she ends up falling for the creature as well. Enter Michael Shannon, the hostile government agent who wants the creature for his own twisted experiments.
"The Shape of Water" is a genre exercise that works wonders as a beautifully realized fairy tale of the highest order. Just like Pan’s Labyrinth, the visuals are hypnotically enchanting. In the midst of Cold War 1963, a shy night-shift custodian named Eliza (the brilliant Sally Hawkins) falls for creature locked up in the secret government laboratory where she works. The cast is aces, from her gay next-door neighbor and best friend (a touchingly funny Richard Jenkins), to her chatty co-worker (the always entertaining Octavia Spencer), to a sympathetic Russian scientist trying to save the creature (the great Michael Stuhlbarg), to the nasty villain of the film (a scene-chewing Michael Shannon), this is one of the best ensembles of any film this year. The Toronto crowd went wild for the scenes which were filmed at Toronto’s famous Elgin theater. Eliza lives atop the cinema in the movie, which is also, unsurprisingly, where the film had its rollicking Ontario premiere 
Del Toro investigates the deep depths of human emotions here. "The Shape of Water" is a love story, but it feels genuine and never out of bounds. Hawkins is incredible as Elisa, a mute, isolated woman who works as a cleaning lady in the top-secret laboratory and whose loveless existence brings her to find comfort in the creature. She nary speaks a word here and yet she's mesmerizing in every single one of her scenes. 
Del Toro’s film, the toast of Venice, came to TIFF with the highest of expectations that were admirably fulfilled. It’s a visual masterwork that will most likely receive the backing of critics nationwide. This festival bow felt like a homecoming for Del Toro, a permanent resident of Toronto, who has easily made his best film since 2006’s Pan’s Labyrinth. It's a surreal journey that takes place in the wee-wee hours of the evening and builds the kind of gloomy but transporting atmosphere just rarely see these days at the movies.
[B+]
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