Scratch the idea that this is a redo of the 2004 film "Hellboy". It's not, even though writer-director Guillermo del Toro does seem to get some extra mileage out of Doug Jones and his Abe Sapien water creature costume. Chalk it off as making good use of a great costume again.


You can also dismiss the notion that "The Shape of Water" is a continuation of the 1954 sci-fi/horror classic "The Creature From the Black Lagoon"; that is way off though it does offer references to the creature from South America. Moreover, the creature's character is nuanced to have an infatuation for human babes, much like the Black Lagoon guy.


No, this is Del Toro's version of "Beauty and the Beast" meets "E.T. - The Extraterrestrial" with homage to "Creature from the Black Lagoon" and a touch of Alejandro Jodorowsky! But don't think for a minute this will be a perfect Christmas Day movie for the entire family... far from it. This film lives up to every bit of its "R" rating and then some.

Perfectly cast Sally Hawkins and Octavia Spencer are two 1962 cleaning ladies - Elisa and Zelda - at a facility that hold water creatures...but not exactly an aquarium. We quickly learn that Elisa is mute from some sort of surgical procedure when she was a child. Zelda is unhappily married to a good-for-nothing man who sits around all day complaining.


Elisa lives by herself above an old movie house and has a steady routine that includes sexual self fulfillment, boiling a few eggs and watching over her gay neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins) who lives next door.


One day, Elisa and Zelda's workday routine is interrupted when a live shipment of some sort of creature is delivered to the facility for storage. Supervising the management of the creature is Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon), a hard line G-man whose only interest is to figure out how this creature ticks. The creature, to Richard, is closer to being a communist spy than an innocent rarity from the tropical jungles. Richard wants to know what the ceature knows, then he wants to disect it to see how it can breathe under water and on land.

Too late though, the bleeding heart Elisa immediately become empathetic about the creature and develops a bond with him when she starts bringing it eggs to eat. She is joined in concern fro the creature by Dr Robert Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg) who wants to study it in one piece, albeit for the Russians with whom he is secrtely employed.


At the far end of the characters is General Hoyt (Nick Searcy) who just wants the thing killed before the Russians grab it and send it into space. Del Toro creates a perfect character arch from super hard-line hater to ultra bleeding heart romantic. The stage is set for a battle for the creature whom no one really understands but with whom only Elisa connects. Much like Steven Spielberg's "E.T." there is a race to save the creature from the stupidity of man.


Much like "Beauty and the Beast", the creature falls in love with Elisa and she for him. Zelda and Giles - who are both both busy dealing with 1960's racial and social criticisms - reluctantly join sides with Elisa; more out of pity than love however. Dr Hoffstetler's Russian controllers are of teh same mind as General Hoyt and Strictland with their interest in killing the creature, if only so the American's can't extract anything useful from it.


Both Espisito and Strictland represent perfect opposites. She is flawed by her inability to speak, he is flawed by the rotting of two reattached fingers (that become characters in their own right as they decay on his hand). The creature is equally rapt by Elisa as he has utter disdain for Richard. Del Toro moves incidental characters in and out much like Jodorowsky does in his films; they become part of the scenery [note the man at the bus stop hold a cake with a slice missing]. It all adds up to a well nuanced visual treat that has many moments of sensuality.


Hawkins is both sexually revealing while maintaining a strong female character. Spencer recalls her solid roles in "The Help" and "Hidden Figures". Shannon is a natural when he gets into his "Iceman" or General Zod character. Not to be overlooked is Jenkins particularly intriguing role as Giles, a gay man in the sixties who has no where to turn and misunderstands the signals other send.


The film takes daring steps in regard to its eroticism. This is not a film for prude as the film explores generally taboo matters. Oh, and it you are sensitive to pet deaths... beware.


"The Shape of Water" is a fabulous tribute to filmmaking as it adds a sensual, romantic turn on age old stories with a Cold War flavor. Easily one of the ten best films of the year.   -- GEOFF BURTON