Review: 'The Shape of Water' Is an Incredibly Romantic Monster Movie

Thanks to films like Pan's Labyrinth, Pacific Rim, and Crimson Peak, Guillermo del Toro has proven himself time and time again as one of the most creative and ambitious filmmakers currently working in Hollywood, regularly finding new ways to make monster movies that are bursting with emotional depth.

Ever since she was found orphaned as a baby, Elisa (Sally Hawkins) hasn't been able to speak, ostracizing her from her community. She has still managed to develop a deep bond with her neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins) and co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer) while making her living as a custodian at a high-tech research facility in the '60s.

When an intimidating government official (Michael Shannon) brings in a new "asset," a humanoid, amphibious creature (Doug Jones), Elisa forms a bond with the creature, seeing little difference between a woman who can't speak and a monster captured by the government. Upon learning that this creature is scheduled for destruction, Elisa enlists her cunning and limited resources to spring the monster from the facility before it can be dissected and exploited.

One of the biggest joys of all of the works of del Toro is he takes concepts that could be reduced to our most child-like interests and treats them with grace and sophistication. Whether that's making monsters fight mechs or exploring what happens when a demon joins a paranormal investigation squad, the filmmaker manages to take a concept that, in many other filmmakers' hands, would be reduced to a sarcastic silliness that would constantly be winking at the audience with the pride of creating such a wacky idea. Rather, del Toro's pure love as a director for the things that fascinated him as a child oozes out of every frame and piece of dialogue, making his films in a class all their own.

It's hard to ignore the fact that The Shape of Water feels like an alternative sequel to Creature From the Black Lagoon, which works in the film's favor. This connection makes it easier for the audience to accept the reality of the story, instead of del Toro having to create an entire world and mythology. The look and feel of the film is both authentic and absurd, showcasing an only slightly exaggerated interpretation of the '60s, which would have coincided with the timeframe of Black Lagoon, creating an accessible entry point for viewers.

The weight of the film rests on the shoulders of Sally Hawkins and Doug Jones, who attack their parts with both ferocity and subtlety as needed. Neither of the performers speaks throughout the film, relying merely on their physicality to convey the complex emotions of fear, loneliness, hope and anger. A frequent collaborator of del Toro, Jones' physicality of the creature lives up to his performances in other films, but Hawkins' portrayal is sure to surprise unfamiliar audiences, making her more than deserving of the various accolades that signify her as one of the best actresses of the year.

The film's monster lives in the water, but the true monstrosity is Michael Shannon's Richard Strickland, a government agent who will stop at nothing to prove he's a "decent" man. The actor has gained a reputation over the years as being one of the most intimidating on-screen presences in a variety of films, with Strickland offering him the opportunity to go completely off the rails and strike fear into the hearts of those around him.

Jenkins and Spencer make the perfect support structure for Hawkins' Elisa, as they've both struggled with their own personal lives and encourage her to be brave while they remain timid. The Shape of Water has easily earned its spot as a contender for one of the best ensembles in a film of the year.

At its core, The Shape of Water shows audiences that the difference between a monster and the status quo is merely one of perspective. It's easy to dismiss things as monsters when they look or act different from the norm, but does this make these monsters undeserving of life and love? This film instead posits that the true monsters are those who seek to put an end to those "monsters" for the sake of what's "decent."

The Shape of Water shows that there are monsters in all of us, and sometimes all it takes is another monster to show us our worth. The film is sure to be one of the most unique and memorable experiences of the year, thanks to its captivating performances and masterful direction. It simply bursts at the seams with love and adoration.

Throughout his career, del Toro has crafted multiple masterpieces of various subgenres, deservedly earning a devout fanbase. Despite the accomplishments of those films, they all seemed to represent various factions of his interests and never wholly represented who the filmmaker truly was in full. With The Shape of Water, del Toro has crafted his very own masterpiece with a film that effortlessly blends the macabre with romance, using truly unique characters with which each and every filmgoer will connect.

Rating: 5 out of 5

The Shape of Water is in select cities now.