The Shape of Water ★★★★

This is exactly the kind of fairy tale for adults that Guillermo del Toro is uniquely fit to make. The world feels distinctly different from ours but also entirely real, and the characters are broadly drawn with simple feelings and motivations. All emotions are believable as they are written, but not exactly contagious or moving. Even the charged romance at the center of the story is entirely cold despite it being sympathetic. It's very much like a Grimm romance.

The imaginative creations are expertly realized and the acting is adorable. Michaels Shannon and Stuhlbarg can do no wrong despite thin characters, and Sally Hawkins and Richard Jenkins are at their best as these broken down good-natured people. Hawkins in particular is a force with the most expressive sign-language. In a fairy tale centered around wordless communication, her furious sign-rant is one of the most intense conversations this year.

In an era where a movie isn't allowed to just be good by itself, this could be part of Universal's Dark Universe as Creature from the Black Lagoon. That whole universe would have been amazing with del Toro at the helm, and this movie is full of the romantic melancholy that run through many of those old monster tales.