How you feel about whimsy will largely dictate your feelings on the sumptuous, but occasionally wanting, Golden Globe winner The Shape of Water.
In Guillermo del Toro's Cold War fairytale, Sally Hawkins plays mute janitor Elisa, who lives with a struggling artist (Richard Jenkins, in a warm and empathetic performance) above a cinema.
One day at work, Elisa encounters a strange event, when an apparent iron lung is shifted into the research facility where she works, complete with mysterious G-man (played with vitriol by Michael Shannon).
Despite being ordered not to do so, Elisa discovers a common bond with the Merman-type creature in the tank (played by creature wizard Doug Jones). However, with the Russians trying to get their hands on it and the Americans threatening to vivisect, Elisa decides to take matters into her own hands.
The Shape Of Water has some truly astounding visuals and is awash in a Jeunet-esque green glow that bathes everything in marine. Many sly references are made to green being the colour of the future. The opening sequence, with its startling aqua-world, is covered in green, reflecting both the film's mystery and its 30s monster movie machinations.
"Jenkins is the everyman with heart, whose desire to fit in is rendered all the more tragic because of societal attitudes to his open lifestyle."
Yet, even for a fantasy, there are moments in the Cold War showdown that don't hold together — lapses of logic and behaviour mar parts of the film, detracting from the fantasy.
Thankfully, The Shape Of Water is grounded by some very human presences.
Jenkins is the everyman with heart, whose desire to fit in is rendered all the more tragic because of societal attitudes to his open lifestyle; Jones is as impressive as ever as a creature, with plenty of years in Hellboy to know that the simplest move of his Creature from the Black Lagoon can mean so much and Shannon's driven Government agent is as necessary a villain as you'd need in a film like this.
But it's Hawkins whose mute turn speaks the loudest in del Toro's movie about the love of movies. Her empathetic Elisa gives the fantasy its heart, and in her silent turn, Hawkins pays tribute to del Toro's aim to salute the golden era of Hollywood's finest. But there's depth to Hawkins, even if the connection initially with the creature feels a little forced; this is a film that follows the conventions of Hollywood's monster movie era where a kindred is born.
Ultimately, The Shape of Water may go on a little too long, but if you're content to rest in its world and revel in del Toro's unique vision, it's the perfect luxuriating piece of cinema.
The Shape of Water
Cast: Sally Hawkins, Doug Jones, Richard Jenkins, Michael Shannon, Octavia Spencer
Director: Guillermo del Toro