The first reviews for Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water are in, and the verdict is it’s a beautifully-realized fairy tale from the director. It tells the story of a mute janitor named Elisa, who works in a high-security government laboratory. Her lonely days are made easier when she befriends a mysterious creature that is a classified experiment. As the relationship between the two grows, Elisa becomes desperate to help her companion escape the facility, but her superior Strickland stands in her way – determined to conduct tests on the asset to see how it works, even if that means killing it.

There has been much buzz and excitement for The Shape of Water ever since it was first announced, as the project marks del Toro’s return to his Pan’s Labyrinth roots. Some have even pegged the project as a possible Oscar contender, with Fox Searchlight positioning it right in the thick of awards season in December. The film recently had its premiere at the Venice Film Festival, and the reaction suggests The Shape of Water definitely lives up to the hype.

To learn what critics enjoy about the film, read the spoiler-free excerpts we have assembled below. You can click on the corresponding links to read the reviews in full.

David Rooney – THR

Following Crimson Peak, The Shape of Water shows signs of del Toro having taken on board the criticisms widely leveled at that lush gothic horror-melodrama. The extravagant design elements and overburdened plotting of the 2015 feature tended to smother much of the story’s genuine emotion, pointing up the shortage of depth in flat characters that invited too little lasting investment. The new picture, by contrast, applies Paul Denham Austerberry’s dazzling production design and Dan Laustsen’s graceful cinematography to a poignant story in which good and evil are represented in richly drawn figures played by a first-rate principal cast.

The Shape of Water Sally Hawkins Doug Jones The Shape of Water Early Reviews Praise del Toros Romantic Fairy Tale

Alonso Duralde – The Wrap

There are elements of “Beauty and the Beast,” “E.T.,” “Amélie” and “The Creature from the Black Lagoon” at play here, but as always, del Toro takes the stories and the images that formed him and crafts them into something utterly his own. There’s something here for lovers of all kinds of movies — even silents and musicals — but the director transcends mere pastiche to craft a work that feels like the product of our collective film-going subconscious.

Xan Brooks – The Guardian

Let’s gloss over the notion that a minimum-wage cleaner would be allowed unfettered access to such a fantastical beast, never mind embark on a scheme that involves spiriting him out, into the midst of Baltimore, concealed inside a linen trolley. Del Toro provides just enough spade-work to keep the scheme plausible and his film is stylish and charming; red meat for the senses with some sugar on top.

Brian Formo – Collider

It’s perhaps his most ambitious film because combining those elements plus a narrative weave of non-verbal communication—or the faultiness of relying on words—is extremely difficult even before I tell you that the love story is between a woman and a creature. As such, it’s an immense achievement because The Shape of Water not only entertains as a sumptuous fairytale, but it reinforces a faith in humanity set in a time where tolerance of other races, nationalities, and non-“family values” love was volatile.

The Shape of Water Sally Hawkins Octavia Spencer The Shape of Water Early Reviews Praise del Toros Romantic Fairy Tale

Among the most praised elements of the picture was the ensemble cast, most noticeably Sally Hawkins as Elisa and Michael Shannon as the villainous Strickland. Doug Jones received high marks as well, with his performance as the creature drawing comparisons to the mo-cap work of Andy Serkis. Del Toro has always been one with a keen eye for visuals, and that hasn’t changed here thanks to top-notch cinematography and production design. Fortunately, that style is being complemented by some hearty substance, as the screenplay by del Toro and Vanessa Taylor was highlighted for its tackling of powerful societal themes and weaving an intricate romance between Elisa and the asset simultaneously.

Time will tell if The Shape of Water is the Academy’s cup of tea, but at the very least, audiences should have a captivating original film to check out this holiday season. Opening at Venice seemed to have been a smart move for Fox, since they’ll now be able to take this word-of-mouth and implement it into the rest of their marketing campaign to build interest with casual moviegoers. From the sound of it, they have something that cinephiles of all kinds should like, which is a recipe for success.

MORE: Watch the Shape of Water Trailer

Source: Various (see links)

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