The Shape of Water is an example of a well-made romantic fantasy. It has the gift of an imagination plus numerous skilled performances that elevate the material.
The story is about a mute, tenderhearted janitor named Elisa (Sally Hawkins) who makes a new friend in the form of an amphibious humanoid. The creature is being imprisoned in a facility under the cruel treatment of a military man and the study of army scientists. They are trying to understand whether the creature can provide them with scientific discovery for military purposes. Elisa does have a neighbor and a friend at work who support her relationship with the creature. However at the facility, some workers begin to grow suspicious of her secret bond with the amphibian.
The fantasy is familiar in its ideas. Stories about friendships between humans and other- worldly creatures have been done in E.T. and the animated Beauty and the Beast. But in its own way, The Shape of Water is almost as effective as those mentioned. The setting is magical in creating a 1960’s earth but with the fine touches of a dream. It is an achievement in production design combining green shades with shadow. The performances are very good. Hawkins as Elisa is able to convey a likable sensitivity despite not speaking. Octavia Spencer as Elisa’s friend comes across as very maternal. Richard Jenkins plays Elisa neighbor as well-meaning but conflicted internally. And Michael Shannon is an abusive, egotistic military officer. The director is Guillermo del Toro who specializes in fantasies that sometimes contain warped moments and The Shape of Water is no exception. It does have a bit of disturbing violence and sensuality. However the narrative is well written and every scene seems to have a purpose. The movie feels inspired.