Following a sojourn into blockbuster cinema that included the giant robot movie Pacific Rim (2013) as well as unfulfilled plans to make The Hobbit movies, Mexican film-maker Guillermo del Toro returns to the more intimate approach of his early work to spellbinding effect with this fantasy romance.

Sally Hawkins (Happy-Go-Lucky) stars as Elisa, a mute cleaning lady at a government science lab in 1962 Baltimore. Del Toro's go-to-guy for makeup and creature work, Doug Jones, co-stars as an unnamed amphibian man being held in the facility and experimented on by scientists overseen by a fascistic G-man, played by Michael Shannon.

A bond begins to develop between Elisa and the fish-man and it soon takes a romantic turn. Elisa must then recruit her closeted gay neighbour (Richard Jenkins) and a fellow cleaning lady (Octavia Spencer) in a bold attempt to save the mer-dude from the unpleasant fate Shannon has in store for him.

Overflowing with colour and empathy, The Shape of Water is a profound re-statement of film-making intent for the monster-obsessed del Toro, whose love for his characters is as palpable as his bold visual style. The validity of the connection between the two lovers at the centre of the film never comes under question thanks in large part to the wordless power projected by both Jones and Hawkins in their performances.

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The deep supporting cast, which also includes the ubiquitous Michael Stuhlbarg (The Post, Call Me By Your Name), buoys the project considerably. Shannon is an absolute force of nature here – the hard angles of his face have rarely been better deployed.

Dreamlike in the best possible sense, The Shape of Water is a timely and potent argument for embracing "the other". Even if he has gills.

Starring:

Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon

Director:

Guillermo del Toro

Running time:

123mins

Rating:

R16 (Violence, horror, sex scenes & offensive language)

Verdict:

A freaky awesome love story.