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The Shape of Water

The Shape of Water title card

Year - 2017
Studio - Fox Searchlight
Stars - Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Doug Jones, Michael Stuhlbarg, Octavia Spencer
Director - Guillermo Del Toro
Writing Credits - Guillermo Del Toro, Vanessa Taylor
Music - Alexandre Desplat


It is the early 1960s Baltimore, at the height of the cold war, and the mute Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins) works as a cleaning woman at a super secret government research laboratory. There, she and her fellow worker, Zelda Fuller (Octavia Spencer), discover a highly classified project in the form of a humanoid amphibian (Doug Jones), captured in a South American jungle. The creature, called an "asset" by its captors, is cruelly treated by the electric prod wielding project manager, Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon), who is pessimistic about the project's value and sees the creature as a freakish affront to God. Elisa sneaks food to the creature and treats it with kindness, and a strong bond is developed between the two. She is secretly observed by a research scientist, Dr. Robert Hoffstettler (Michael Stuhlbarg). who is actually a Russian spy, but is sympathetic to the creature's situation and research value.

The Shape of Water poster

When Strickland's superior, General Hoyt (Nick Searcy) orders the project shut down and the creature destroyed and the remains studied. Dr. Hoffstettler pleads with the General for the creature's life, to no avail. His own Russian superiors order him to kill the creature and dispose of the corpse. Elisa enlists the help of Zelda and her close friend and neighbor, Giles (Richard Jenkins), a closeted gay illustrator, to hatch a plan to rescue the creature. Giles uses his artistic skills to paint a laundry service logo on a rented van and to create a fake ID card. Elisa secretly changes the position of one of the security cameras so that their release of the creature won't be observed by Security. As their caper gets underway, Dr. Hoffstettler, having foreseen their plan, assists them to successfully abduct the creature. Mortified, Strickland assures the General that he will find and destroy the creature.

Elisa puts the creature in her apartment bathtub, adding salt and chemicals provided by Dr. Hoffstettler. She makes plans to release him into the Baltimore canal as soon as the rains cause it to open to the ocean. They discover that the creature has the power to heal wounds, as well as to cause the balding Giles’ head to grow hair.

The two become very close, and ultimately they make love. But the creature’s health begins to fail, and Elisa realizes that time is running short for his return to the seas. In the meantime, Dr. Hoffstettler’s superiors inform him that he is being extracted from the project. When he arrives at the meeting place, a rock quarry, one of the Russians shoots him. But Strickland, whose suspicions had led him to follow Hoffstettler, arrives and kills the Russian and demands the scientist to reveal the wherabouts of the creature. The dying Hoffstettler laughs that there was no strike force, just cleaners.

Elisa and Giles take the creature to the docks, but Strickland arrives and fires bullets into the creature and Elisa. But the creature’s bullet wounds instantly heal and he slashes Strickland’s throat. Holding Elisa in his arms, he leaps into the sea. As he holds her underwater, gills appear on her neck, and they embrace.

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The creature design is very similar to that of the Creature from the Black Lagoon. That classic movie, however, would not classify as a film blanc because the romantic angle is strictly one-way. While the Creature is attracted to Julie Adams' character, she is very frightened by it.