“The Shape of Water” is partly a code-scrambled fairy tale, partly a genetically modified monster movie, and altogether wonderful. Guillermo del Toro, the writer and director, is a passionate genre geek. Sometimes his enthusiasm can get the better of his discipline, producing misshapen (but never completely uninteresting) filmlike “Pacific Rim” and “Crimson Peak.” At his best, though — in “The Devil’s Backbone,” “Pan’s Labyrinth” and now, at last, again — he fuses a fan’s ardor with a romantic sensibility that is startling in its sincerity. He draws on old movies, comic books, mythic archetypes and his own restless visual imagination to create filmthat seem less made than discovered, as if he had plucked them from the cultural ether and given them color, voice and form.
The most obvious reference point for “The Shape of Water” is “Creature From the Black Lagoon,” a Cold War-era camp-horror classic about a strange beast, quasi-fish and sort-of human, discovered in the rain forests of the Amazon. In Mr. del Toro’s update, such a creature is brought to Baltimore in the early 1960s and kept in a tank at a government research lab, where he is subjected to brutal torture in the name of science and national security.
“The Asset,” as his minders call him, poses no threat to anyone. He is, as wild things tend to be in filmnowadays, an innocent at the mercy of a ruthlessly predatory species, which is to say us. His particular nemesis is Richard Strickland, a government-issue, square-jawed square played with reliable menace by Michael Shannon. Strickland lives in a suburban split-level with his wife and two kids, drives a Cadillac, reads “The Power of Positive Thinking” and is into mechanical missionary sex (and workplace sexual harassment). His favorite accessory is an electric cattle prod, a detail that links him to the Southern sheriffs occasionally shown terrorizing civil rights demonstrators on television.
Watch The Shape of Water 2017 film online. A caricature? Maybe. But also a perfectly plausible villain, and in his diabolical all-American normalcy a necessary foil for the film’s loose rebel coalition, a band of misfits who come to the Asset’s defense. The most important of these is Elisa (Sally Hawkins), a member of the laboratory’s nighttime cleaning staff, who plays jazz records for the piscine captive, feeds him hard-boiled eggs and before long falls in love with him.