You know that all-consuming feeling of love at first sight? When you see something so perfect and wonderful, and you’re filled with such a deeply resounding sense of love and affection in just a few mere moments? That was my precise experience with Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water—within 90 seconds of the film’s breathtaking and almost ethereal opening, I knew I was head over heels for his latest directorial effort, and everything else that followed only intensified my adoration of del Toro’s magnificent creature-feature-meets-timeless-fairy-tale. I’ve fallen hard for nearly all of the visionary filmmaker’s work over the years, but The Shape of Water has officially become my very favorite cinematic story from my very favorite director working today.

In The Shape of Water, we meet Elisa (Sally Hawkins), a young woman who was abandoned as a child and has spent her entire life mute after she was left with wounds all over her throat. But despite her inability to communicate verbally, she’s never let it slow her down one iota—she has deep-rooted friendships with her kindly neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins) and her co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer) who she spends her nights with, cleaning up after scientists and government stooges at a mysterious facility that plays host to some of the US’s deepest secrets.

One of those secrets is a new arrival: an unnamed “Amphibian Man” (Doug Jones) that has been captured by Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon) from a river on the Amazon, in the hopes that the “monstrosity” holds the key to the US beating the Russians into space. While the entity has a scientific value, Strickland is hellbent on torturing the creature into submission nonetheless, simply due to his own twisted need for control and dominance over everything in his life. But one day, Elisa and the aquatic being share a meet-cute over some hard boiled eggs, and their unlikely love blossoms from there. Realizing her new soul mate is in a great deal of danger, our heroine hatches a plan to rescue him with the help of her closest friends and a scientist (Michael Stuhlbarg) who has his own complicated agenda at play throughout The Shape of Water.

While The Shape of Water is very much a ravishing love story that supersedes all expectations and conventions, the thing that struck me the most about del Toro’s script (which he co-wrote with Vanessa Taylor) was how much the narrative was really about acceptance and the universality of love—not just those romantic feelings, either, but affection shared between humans in general, and our need for connectedness in a world that can be sometimes cruel and dismissive. And considering just how much of a dumpster fire 2017 has been for most of the world at large, The Shape of Water is arriving at a time when I think most of us really could use a dose of the “warm and fuzzies” (I’m like 90% sure that is a proper journalistic term).

As far as the performances go in The Shape of Water, everyone here is so perfectly cast that it’s easy to believe that del Toro crafted these characters specifically for each actor, because they slip into their respective roles so seamlessly. Hawkins, who I wasn’t all that familiar with prior to Shape (I only really recalled seeing her in the 2014 Godzilla movie before this), so her work here was completely revelatory to me. Elisa is such a remarkably drawn character to, and the way Hawkins is able to capture the simple magic to this woman is downright wonderful.

Something else I really enjoyed about Elisa was the fact that while she yearned to find the other half of her whole, it’s not like her life was lacking prior to meeting the Amphibian Man of her dreams. She has a rich, fulfilling life that she enjoys, and has the support of people who care for her (and vice versa), so while her finding love is a remarkable occurrence, it doesn’t define who she is as a human being. THIS is how you write female characters, folks.

Also, I’d be truly remiss if I didn’t mention Doug Jones in The Shape of Water, because his performance is truly special. He has spent decades now slipping under the facades of so many incredible monsters, otherworldly beings, and the like, but his role in Shape is right up there as some of his best work, as he finds a way to bring a sense of humanity to this creature, and makes it easy to understand how Elisa could possibly fall for him in the first place.

The Shape of Water is my favorite film of 2017, genre or otherwise, and while it’s no secret that my deep admiration for the work of del Toro rivals the way that the maestro himself worships at the altar of movie monsters, objectively I can say that what he has managed to craft in Shape—from the characters to the creature to the look and feel of this world—is a sumptuous masterpiece and a perfect celebration of the golden age of cinema, and it feels like the equivalent of a warm cinematic embrace that you don’t ever want to leave.

Movie Score: 5/5

  • Heather Wixson
    About the Author - Heather Wixson

    Heather A. Wixson was born and raised in the Chicago suburbs, until she followed her dreams and moved to Los Angeles in 2009. A 14-year veteran in the world of horror entertainment journalism, Wixson fell in love with genre films at a very early age, and has spent more than a decade as a writer and supporter of preserving the history of horror and science fiction cinema. Throughout her career, Wixson has contributed to several notable websites, including Fangoria, Dread Central, Terror Tube, and FEARnet, and she currently serves as the Managing Editor for Daily Dead, which has been her home since 2013. She's also written for both Fangoria Magazine & ReMind Magazine, and her latest book project, Monsters, Makeup & Effects: Volume One will be released on October 20, 2021.