(director/writer: Guillermo Del Toro; screenwriters: Vanessa Taylor/from a story by Del Toro; cinematographer: Dan Laustsen; editor: Sidney Wolinsky; music: Alexandre Desplat; cast: Sally Hawkins (Elisa Esposito), Michael Shannon (Strickland), Richard Jenkins (Giles), Octavia Spencer (Zelda Fuller), Doug Jones (Amphibian Man), Michael Stuhlbarg (Robert Hoffstetler), David Hewlett (Fleming), Nick Searcy (General Hoyt), Stewart Arnott (Bernard), Nigel Bennett (Mihalkov), Morgan Kelly (Pie Man), Lauren Lee Smith (Elaine Strickland), Martin Roach (Brewster Fuller); Runtime: 123; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Guillermo Del Toro, J. Miles Dale.; Fox Searchlight; 2017-English with Russian dialogue)

If this story is not enough of a spike for your imagination, try taking in the visually grandiose underwater scene between monster and damsel.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Mexican born filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro (“Crimson Peak”/”Pan’s Labyrinth“) directs the Cold War postwar monster/romance film with an ability to tell a great fantasy/horror story and magically to elicit from it both menace and comic relief. Del Toro writes it as an illuminating flight of fancy film with writer Vanessa Taylor, who base it on the auteur’s own story. It’s a unique enveloping fairy-tale monster story that is visually stunning and shows lots of love for the monster and for the tolerant innocents who are suppressed by America’s bigotry and intolerance of others. It revisits the tame times in the 1960s of early TV to capture its culture and attitudes, and it does so with a remarkable accuracy and poignancy. Though it falls into the world of absurdity when a romance blossoms between a mute and a freakish creature, noted as kindred souls, the film never loses its credibility or fails to become deeply moving. The story revolves around a lovelorn mute (who can hear but not speak since when as an orphan child she was abused and her vocal cords were cut) named Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins), who works the night shift as a cleaning lady in a secret, high-security government lab in the rainy Baltimore of 1962. Her best friend is her black partner cleaning lady Zelda (Octavia Spencer), who is protective of her. Eliza lives with her lonely, gay, failed artist boyfriend Giles (Richard Jenkins), in an apartment above a theater showing The Story of Ruth. Her life changes drastically when she discovers the lab has in secret just moved in a mysterious, scaly creature from the Amazon (Doug Jones), a S.A. sea god, and has placed him in a water tank. He’s considered an asset by the intelligence group in charge, who want to experiment to see if he can teach them how to live longer in space and thereby give them an edge on the rival Soviets. The scientist in charge is the marine biologist Dr. Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg). He is viewed as a caring person until we learn he has his own reasons for treating the asset nice, while the one in charge of security is the sadist Strickland (Michael Shannon). He takes pleasure in torturing the captive with his stun-gun baton because he views him as an affront to God. The curious Elisa sneaks into the lab to make contact with the creature and falls in love with him, after feeding him eggs and bonding with him. When seeing how he’s mistreated by the piggish Strickland, the cleaning lady concocts a plan, that’s carried out with a little help from her friends, to free the creature from the secured lab and to hold him temporarily in the bathtub of her apartment. If this story is not enough of a spike for your imagination, try taking in the visually grandiose underwater scene between monster and damsel. Though King Kong might have hinted that romance was in the air, this film brings such thoughts to a new dimension.

REVIEWED ON 11/29/2017 GRADE: A-