The Shape of Water is a mind-bending romance that will shake you to your core.

If you’re one of those people who often gazes off into the distance and longs for a world where the Creature From the Black Lagoon finally gets his happily ever after, boy, do I have the movie for you.

Or, even if that thought has somehow never entered your consciousness, this movie is still for you. At least it will be if you have some semblance of a beating heart and a taste for big screen adventures that effortlessly tap into the best and worst parts of humanity.

I’m talking of course about The Shape of Water, the latest offering from the brilliant mind of filmmaker Guillermo del Toro (Crimson Peak, Pan’s Labyrinth) and a movie that blends elements from musicals, film noir, horror and fantasy into an intoxicating cinematic smoothie.

Listen: The Bind host Laura Brodnik explains why The Shape of Water is already being called the best movie of 2018.

Elisa (Sally Hawkins) is a mute woman in 1962 Baltimore who was abandoned by her parents as a baby and whose throat is criss-crossed with a mess of mysterious scars.

She lives a small, repetitive life that sees her days fall into an endless pattern of trudging from her shabby apartment to the secretive government research facility where she works as a cleaner. Elisa can hear perfectly well, but cannot speak, communicating with all around her via sign language.

Her closest friend is a closeted gay artist named Giles (Richard Jenkins) who lives across the hall and whose dreamlike voice narrates the movie’s exquisite opening sequence. A scene where the story is introduced in a fairy-tale like fashion as we first lay eyes upon a sleeping Elisa, floating gently in an underwater apartment. It’s a sequence that immediately makes you stop and wonder, is it all a dream or in fact the conclusion to the movie?


While in the midst of cleaning the secret facility, Elisa comes across the creature, or “asset” being held captive and experimented on by a team of military scientists.

The Amphibian Man (Doug Jones) is an aquatic, almost human-like creature who was captured in a remote part of the Amazon and has been violently transported to Baltimore by Colonel Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon, completely in his element in this deliciously evil role), who continues to mercilessly abuse him with the help of an electronic cattle prod.

Though neither of our leads can utter a word out loud, Elisa and the creature slowly start to form a relationship, a relationship that begins to spark with romance as they bond over their love of music, their fondness for hard-boiled eggs and the fact they both know what it is like to be seen as “other”.

Sally Hawkins and Doug Jones in The Shape of Water: Source: Fox Searchlight.

There's a certain kind of kind of magic in watching these lead characters, two people who traditionally would never find themselves tangled up in a series of romantic interludes, begin to fall for each other so completely without exchanging a word of dialogue. Like the old, silent movies of days gone by rejigged to include a cameo by a classic movie monster.

The fact that the Amphibian Man is layered with characteristics similar to that of the Creature From The Black Lagoon is no accident. With del Torro admitting while on the press circuit for the film that he has been story-boarding The Shape of Water  in his head since he was 7 years old.

That's how long he has been waiting to take the iconic creature in a new direction and finally hook him up with a lady friend. And that dedication shines through the camera lens.


While the fish-like man is certainly a scene stealer, the show is still completely owned by Elisa. Who, even as a woman with no physical voice, has more agency and depth than a lot of the other female leads who have been churned out by movie studios over the past few years.

Despite initially appearing meek and mild, Elisa cements herself as a force to be reckoned with, masterminding a series of heists to outsmart the government operatives all while engaging in a cat and mouse battle with Strickland, who takes a sick fancy to her.

It's also incredibly refreshing to see how she owns her own sexuality throughout the film and how it has the power to move the story along, a plot device usually reserved for the leading man.

Whether she's engaging in a spot of masturbation in the bathtub before work (side note, how does she have time to do that? I don't even have time to make a coffee before rushing out the door. Those are some impressive time management skills...)  or partaking in a sexy romp in a dangerously flooded apartment, everything about Elisa's story becomes about fulfilling her own desires.

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However, even the best works of art have areas in which they can improve upon and in this case the biggest let down of the film was the casting of Octavia Spencer as Zelda Fuller, a fellow cleaner at the facility and Elisa's workplace friend.


Spencer, as always, knocks the role out of the park and adds a full spectrum of emotion to the character who acts as Elisa's voice in the emotionless, sterile building in which they work.

But despite her excellent screen presence, I can't help but feel that in this case Spencer has been relegated to the role of the sassy yet supportive black best friend. With the majority of her lines falling into an endless pattern of expressing surprise and disapproval at Elisa's actions.

And to be frank, that is just a waste of an Octavia Spencer. It may seem like a small thread to pull at, but I dream of a day when she is the one leading a thrilling, romantic movie such as this, instead of just shouting from the sidelines...

But still, The Shape of Water is the kind of movie that will warm your heart, while also forcing you to the edge of your seat.

And it will also leave you with a touch of hope, thinking that somewhere out there in that big, bad world, there's a sea monster just waiting for you.

For more content like this, you can follow Mamamia Entertainment Editor and host of The Binge podcast Laura Brodnik on Facebook. 

The Shape of Water will open in cinemas across Australia on Thursday January 18.