Soaked in blood, passion and enough water for a tsunami, Cold War fable The Shape of Water has creativity and conviction to spare. Director Guillermo del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth) has an expansive imagination, but his limitations as a storyteller have created a film that is beautiful but cluttered, visionary but formulaic. It's sympathetic to its kind, lonely heroine, but unwilling to let her spearhead the story the way that men have driven del Toro fantasies like Pacific Rim.
That heroine is Eliza (Sally Hawkins), a mute janitor who works in a Baltimore laboratory where she cleans bathrooms and, on occasion, the chamber where a dark-eyed, water-dwelling creature (Doug Jones) has been imprisoned.
Eliza, "the princess without voice," and the creature, her slimy-but-beautiful prince, fall in love, but del Toro seems skittish about lavishing their romance with too much attention. Instead, he stuffs the film with subplots about Cadillacs, Russian spies and key lime pie.
It's a relief when he simply lets us stare in rapture at the image of Eliza and the creature floating together in a flooded bathroom. Love, that glorious image suggests, is enough for them. Why didn't del Toro trust that it would be enough for the movie?
CRITIC'S RATING: 2/4 stars.
The Shape of Water is rated R and now playing at Cinema 21, Hollywood.