The Shape of Water continues to prove Guillermo del Toro's genius.

Part Splash, part Creature from the Black Lagoon, all Guillermo del Toro. The Shape of Water depicts an “otherworldly fairy tale” and an unlikely romance that seems like it should feel wrong, but just doesn’t.

Elisa (Sally Hawkins) is a mute cleaner who works on staff at a hidden, high-security government laboratory. She clearly has companionship, or at least acquaintances, in the form of chatty coworker Zelda (Octavia Spencer) and neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins). But she still feels alone.

As well as Del Toro depicts the whimsical and extravagant, he too manages to capture the monotony of a mundane existence, showing Elisa’s NSFW morning routine, sleepy trek to work, cleaning route accompanied by Zelda, telling stories of her husband and her collapse into bed after a long day. The use of a tear-away calendar demonstrates the seemingly pointless flow of time, each day no different than the last.

Of course, that all changes when an intriguing, new “specimen” is brought into the laboratory, hidden in a super secret exhibit. The fearsome Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon) comes along with the discovery, proving the acquisition to be all the more dangerous and curious.

Elisa doesn’t see danger, though. She sees a similar lonesome soul in the fish man, trapped in a world where it feels like it doesn’t belong. And she can’t help herself from trying to connect, no matter the consequences. (And believe us, there are consequences… remember how fearsome we said Strickland is? Yeah, we weren’t kidding.)

And an unforeseen accident in the lab only intensifies Strickland’s fury toward the water creature — and the government’s stronghold on it. But what would a fairytale be without the dragon to slay or the spell that needs to be broken? The trick with The Shape of Water, of course, is figuring exactly what and/or who that dragon is.

And Del Toro does a fine job of giving nuance to each character, ensuring no one is static and without motivation. He’s constantly testing who and what you think you know, allowing for some people to rise to the occasion, while others only let you down.

As tensions rise, Elisa will discover what she’s really made of, and whether that’s a good or bad thing. But only a viewing of the film will tell if all things work out in the end.

The visuals are nothing short of spectacular, as one would come to expect from an artist like Del Toro. The strange beauty sucks you in and the phenomenal acting, storytelling and profound emotion keep you around until the credits roll.

But don’t think that because it deals with loneliness and a government lab it’s all doom and gloom. There are plenty of laughs to be had in The Shape of Water, a good number of which are provided by the ever-talented Spencer.

The Oscar winner, for whom Del Toro wrote the role, is both hilarious and feeling. She provides comic relief, but you can also tell how deeply she cares for Elisa, down to the way she holds her spot in line so she can clock in on time at work.

Those not in favor of fantasy or the absurdities of life will likely not get Del Toro’s vision. But for everyone else, this will be another stroke of strange brilliance alongside classics such as Pan’s Labyrinth and Crimson Peak. 

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