I’m honestly more torn about this film than any I’ve seen in years. It’s Amelie-gorgeous with deep sea-green color saturation and beautiful acting.The score perfectly pursues the main character through immaculate set pieces – in ancient red velvet theaters and gorgeous 1950’s attic apartments, on city buses trekking rain-soaked city streets, and inside symmetrical science labs.It’s also gruesome, torturous, cruelty thrust upon weak and helpless “others” by power-wielding men. These characters take aim at the broken, the lonely, the unloved, the underdogs.This kind of cruelty, the stuff of pure evil, usually plays out more subtly in movies. The bad guys usually retain glimmers of hope – a redemption factor that causes us to pause, consider the potential for evil we all carry but that we must choose not to act on. In this, Del Toro’s most beautiful monster film yet, he offers the bad guys no redemption, no character arcs, no potential for good. They are all bad, hated from moment one.This is a film about loneliness, a universally understood theme.All characters long for connection. They paint it, discuss it, force it, sacrifice to find it, lie to obtain it, and wait endlessly for it. One lone woman, a petite, wordless girl of routine and whimsy, played bravely by Sally Hawkins, finally acts on her longings and woos the most tortured of all – a creature of the sea. Okay, yes, this is where it gets really odd. Shape of Water is indeed a love story between girl and fishman. The director supposedly saw the old Creature from the Black Lagoon movie years ago and always wanted to give him a love story. This film is surprisingly explicit at times. Scenes that give it the R rating include sexuality, nudity, and gore.Communist sub-plots in the space-race era provide secondary plot structure under-lacing the romance between unseen beauty and aquatic wonder man. The secondary characters prove lovable and crucial to the plot as they too work to overcome their own unappreciated uniquenesses.In the 50’s, having a different skin color or lifestyle choice meant exclusion from society. The painter, played by Richard Jenkins, is the friend who lives next door who remains reclusive, hiding in his own pain until challenged to act heroically.Octavia Spencer is the verbose but trusted confidant. It wasn’t until her character was threatened that I started looking for exits in the theater. I had forgotten my visceral response to the scenes of sudden shocking gore in Pan’s Labyrinth, del Toro’s best known work until now.Guillermo del Toro is a designer, an artist, who sculpts empathy and terror, interweaving both. In this film, he somehow succeeds yet again, proving his adept directorial skills as he offers both horror and romance. The question he poses: Who truly is the monster? Then the classic message resounds when true love conquers all.