Each day before going to work, Elisa puts eggs on the stove to boil, gets into the bathtub, and pleasures herself.
Eggs, water, and—yes—sex will all play crucial and overlapping roles in the director Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water, an adult fairy tale that is at once deeply familiar and utterly original.
Del Toro’s principal inspiration for the film was the 1954 monster-movie classic Creature From the Black Lagoon, which he recalls watching when he was 7 years old. “The creature was the most beautiful design I’d ever seen,” he told The Hollywood Reporter recently. “I saw him swimming under [actress] Julie Adams, and I loved that the creature was in love with her, and I felt an almost existential desire for them to end up together.” Years ago, del Toro even tried to sell Universal Pictures on a remake in which the creature and the woman would end up together. The studio passed. So instead, he has now given us the modest miracle of The Shape of Water.
The setting is the early 1960s, and protagonist Elisa (played with consummate grace by Sally Hawkins) works the night shift as a janitor at a secret Cold War lab outside Baltimore. Thanks to an unexplained childhood injury, she is mute, with parallel scars running along both sides of her neck. Her best friends—perhaps her only friends—are outsiders as well: Zelda (Octavia Spencer), a black woman with an ingrate for a husband; and Giles (Richard Jenkins), a commercial artist who lives in the apartment next door and harbors a secret that got him fired from his corporate job.