This year's Venice Film Festival has brought with it a whole host of potential Oscar candidates. And none have been more rapturously received than Guillermo Del Toro's latest fantasy, The Shape of Water.
In fact it's been branded his finest film since 2006's Spanish Civil War/fairy tale extravaganza Pan's Labyrinth, widely considered the director's masterpiece. Currently sitting at 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, here's what you need to know.
What's it about?
Set in 1960s America during the height of Cold War paranoia, the movie centres on a mute janitor named Elisa working at a secretive government lab.
When she stumbles across an aquatic, humanoid creature locked away in a tank, she is at first alarmed and then intrigued by the monster's plight. Vowing to protect the beast from the classified scientific experiments planned by her employers, a journey of discovery begins.
So is it Del Toro on home turf?
By the sounds of it yes. Quite apart from the contemporary setting (until now largely reserved for his Hellboy movies and robot/kaiju epic Pacific Rim), this promises to be a dreamy love letter to retro horror movies and also musicals, propelled by Alexandre Desplat's enchanting score and with a memorable beastie at its centre.
Quite unlike many of Del Toro's other films however, it's also a romance as the central human/inhuman duo form a deep connection that flies in the face of scientific cruelty.
What led to the movie's creation?
Ever seen the classic 1950s creature feature Creature from the Black Lagoon? Del Toro has confirmed that its central image, that of a monster swimming up beneath a helpless woman, helped give birth to his new movie. In fact, it's one of his most personal and cherished memories.
"I’ve had this movie in my head since I was 6, not as a story but as an idea," he tells LA Times. "When I saw the creature swimming under Julie Adams [in Creature From the Black Lagoon], I thought three things: I thought, 'Hubba-hubba.' I thought, 'This is the most poetic thing I’ll ever see.' I was overwhelmed by the beauty. And the third thing I thought is, 'I hope they end up together.'"
The fabulous cast is led by Sally Hawkins, fast emerging as one of Britain's most versatile stars who has charmed in everything from Mike Leigh's Happy Go Lucky to Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine (for which she was Oscar nominated) and family adventure Paddington.
Supporting her is a heavyweight cast of awards favourites including Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer as Elisa's loyal best friend Zelda, nominee Michael Shannon as the brutish Strickland and Richard Jenkins as Giles.
Meanwhile Del Toro favourites Doug Jones – the man who played Abe Sapien in Hellboy and the hideous Pale Man in Pan's Labyrinth – again disappears in the pivotal role of the mysterious creature.
What have the critics said?
Guy Lodge in Variety ecstatically writes: "Lit from within by a heart-clutching silent star turn from Sally Hawkins, lent dialogue by one of Alexandre Desplat’s most abundantly swirling scores, this is incontestably del Toro’s most rewarding, richly realized film — or movie, for that matter — since 2006’s “Pan’s Labyrinth."
Raves David Rooney in The Hollywood Reporter: "While the remarkable Hawkins carries every scene with her tender emotional transparency and joyously unabashed desire, the superb work from Jenkins, Stuhlbarg, Shannon and the wryly amusing Spencer — along with the vital roles their characters play in the unfolding action — makes this a robustly populated story. And the work of Jones cannot be over-praised in portraying the creature as a sentient being with a soulful inner life, driven by a yearning no less persuasive than that of Elisa."
And Robbie Collin in The Telegraph describes the movie as "A shimmeringly earnest and boundlessly beautiful melodrama: think Creature From the Black Lagoon directed by Douglas Sirk... Like the best bath you’ve ever had, it sends tingles coursing through every part of you that other films don’t reach."
When's it out?
Following its gala premiere at the London Film Festival on 10th October, The Shape of Water goes on wide release on 16th February 2018. Check out the trailer below.