Guillermo del Toro (“Crimson Peak”) aims for romance in his new fantasy film “The Shape of Water.” Unlikely lead Sally Hawkins (“Maudie”) delivers a quiet performance, literally, where her full talent is finally on display for the rest of the world to discover how amazing she is. Nominated for 13 Academy Awards, “Shape” was always going to pull in the biggest nomination haul due to its eligibility in nearly every category. Fans of del Toro’s will eat this up more than your average viewer. I worry, however, that the increasing buzz for this movie, and its recent win at Venice, will raise expectations to a level this project was never intended for. “The Shape of Water” opens with the type of sexual content that’s consistent throughout the film. As if to say, this isn’t a family film, which is refreshing to see a fantasy story outside a franchise and aimed for mature audiences.

Eliza (Hawkins) and Zelda (Octavia Spencer) clean a secret government facility in Baltimore, that’s just received a dangerous specimen. Secret Agent Strickland (Michael Shannon) discovered a creature that can live in and out of water. As the agency contemplates how to use this being to advance the race to space against the Russians, Eliza begins creating conversation with it in secret. Eliza is mute, but this swimming guy sees her as whole. At home, Eliza and her best friend, next-door neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins), watch musicals together and eat desert from the local restaurant. Eliza will need both Zelda and Giles to help her spare the life of this monster before the men in black use it for evil purposes.

Apparently, Hawkins’ casting happened one drunken Golden Globes, when del Toro pitched her the movie between commercials. She is the heartbeat of the film with another physically challenging performance. The entire cast, which includes three Oscar nominations in total (Hawkins, Spencer and Jenkins), are selected because of similar roles in other films, reinforcing stereotypes to fulfill del Toro’s world. There are violent moments sprinkled throughout the film that should satisfy del Toro’s horror crowd, but the movie’s tone never feels like one genre or another. “The Shape of Water” is more like “Pans Labyrinth” than anything. Del Toro’s script plays by whatever rules he establishes in the onset, introducing the audience to another hyper realty. However, I could have done without that black and white dance sequence.

The musical score in combination with the way the film is shot and presented evokes feelings of a classical French picture. The special effects in developing both the creature and the 1950s world are flawless. In the end, “The Shape of Water” doesn’t have any weight to it. It’s cute in its own way, charming in others. It’s a love story about two creatures who come together because they don’t fit into society. Yet the screenplay leaves so many open-ended questions, or at least scenes we ponder on later. It’s “Amelie” meets “Hellboy,” set in 1950s America. Most of the plot points are obvious, forgivable, because they play out in such glossy cinematic fashion. It’s high end, creative and original entertainment for sure, but I never felt the emotion so many others have referenced.

Final Thought — Hawkins a superb, albeit type-cast actress, brings to life another beautifully creepy Guillermo del Toro fantasy.

Dustin Chase is a film critic and associate editor with Texas Art & Film, which is based in Galveston. Visit

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