The Shape of Water screenshot

The Shape of Water (2017)

four stars

A mute custodian falls in love with an amphibious creature held captive in a secret underground government facility.


Guillermo del Toro's The Shape of Water is a romantic tale of forbidden love. It's a story about feeling out of place in the world. It's not a horror movie, but it does feature tremendous creature effects and another element that the horror genre has mastered: using allegory to explore today's social issues.

Elisa works the night shift as a custodian at an underground government facility. Her routine is interrupted by the arrival of an amphibian man, held captive and experimented on by government officials. The more time Elisa spends near the creature, the deeper she falls in love with him. When his life is in danger, she risks her own to set him free.

The Shape of Water screenshot

The Shape of Water achieves what The Mummy and future Dark Universe films should strive to be: a creative new story inspired by one of the classic Universal Monsters. The amphibian man here is not exactly the Gill-man from Creature from the Black Lagoon, but he was clearly the primary inspiration. The stories share similarities between the two films as well, with the very notable difference that Elisa falls in love with the amphibian man while the Gill-man takes a much more horrific approach to finding a human female mate.

The villain here is not the amphibian man, but the monstrous Colonel Strickland, the cattle prod-wielding handler who constantly abuses and torments the creature. Strickland is an outdated white alpha male in a world that's quickly passing him by. He lives in constant fear of outsiders usurping his role in society, be they amphibian, Russian, black, homosexual, or female. Not even a brand new teal Cadillac can re-establish his diminishing masculinity.

The Shape of Water is the story of a taboo relationship, using an interspecies couple to explore the topic. Elisa's friends help her save the amphibian man (and their budding romance) even though they're unable to save themselves. Her neighbor Giles laments that he feels out of place as an aging gay man born either too late or too soon, while her co-worker Zelda is a strong black woman held back as her ineffectual husband sits by watching television. These friends, knowing first hand what it's like to be out of place in society, are the ones who risk their own lives for the sake of their friend's happiness.

The Shape of Water poster The Shape of Water title screen


  • Guillermo del Toro


  • Sally Hawkins as Elisa Esposito
  • Michael Shannon as Richard Strickland
  • Richard Jenkins as Giles
  • Doug Jones as Amphibian Man
  • Michael Stuhlbarg as Dr. Robert Hoffstetler
  • Octavia Spencer as Zelda Fuller