Master storyteller and director Guillermo del Toro has created an adult fairy tale set against the backdrop of the Cold War era. In a high-security government laboratory, the lives of two janitors, brilliantly played by Sally Hawkins (Elisa) and Octavia Spencer (Zelda), intersect with the lives of a nasty military officer (Michael Shannon) and a sympathetic researcher (Michael Stuhlbarg).
Point of intersection: a secret classified experiment that has captured the interest of the Americans and the Russians.
An amphibious creature—often referred to as the “asset”—is shackled and tested while its future is being debated. The scientists consider the asset to be a biological miracle that could be used to help future astronauts. The military is considering the asset as a potential weapon against the Russians while the Russians are plotting their own takeover of the asset.
Elisa tries to keep her head down as she cleans around the asset’s tank, but she can’t resist taking a peek. There is an instant connection as soon as her eyes connect with the blue orbs of the amphibian (Doug Jones). An inter-species romance develops as Elisa secretly shares boiled eggs and music during her lunch breaks. The two outsiders—a mute woman and an amphibian—form a silent bond.
Emboldened by her love, Elisa decides to liberate the creature. What follows is an unlikely but fascinating tale of escape and the repercussions for all involved.
So much to like here—Sally Hawkins’ ability to express herself without uttering a word, strong performances by all supporting actors, breathtaking underwater visions, expert narration by Richard Jenkins (who also stars as Elisa’s eccentric neighbor), unexpected plot twists, and Guillermo del Toro’s extraordinary vision of a magical world brought to life.
The most-nominated film at this year’s Oscars, The Shape of Water won in four categories: Production Design, Original Score, Director, and Best Picture.