Oct 4 2017 2:00pm

Will a Sea Creature Find Love in The Shape of Water?

The Shape of Water

Serious buzz is building for The Shape of Water, a forthcoming film from writer-director Guillermo del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth and Hellboy are two of his well-known films).

This 1962-set romantic fantasy is about a mute janitor who discovers a sentient amphibious creature in a government laboratory. On its surface, The Shape of Water is a supernatural/sci-fi romance in the mode of Beauty and the Beast stories. Heroine Elisa (Sally Hawkins) finds a mystery on her hands and makes a deep connection with The Creature (Doug Jones). Just how deep of a connection? The film promises to delve into many aspects of their relationship, including a romantic one.

The Shape of Water will release in the U.S. in December 2017. Early reviews have been extremely positive, including Time Magazine's description of the film as a “…Poetic Love Letter to a Monster,” and The Wrap calling it a “glorious romance.”

Check out the trailer:

This film is definitely on my to-watch list, so I've been avoiding spoilers as much as possible. Still, it's difficult to miss some of the fascinating details about the story as the media campaign has unfolded. For one thing, the heroine has a disability. That's an exquisite aspect of her character since we rarely get movie romances featuring heroines with disabilities so front and center. I'm betting her disability plays a key role in the story, and that she's not “cured” of it by the story's end. That's the level of confidence I have in del Toro's storytelling skills. I trust he will, to the best of his ability, authentically portray a character with a disability.

Another intriguing potential aspect is the allusion of amphibious creature-human sex, and while it certainly sounds titillating, that part of the story will probably be more stylish than salacious. With del Toro at the helm, it's practically guaranteed that viewers will be treated to a romantic depiction of interspecies love.

Why? Well, not only does Guillermo del Toro make films with striking visual styles, he is on record many times as having a strong interest in monster characters as well as depicting them in sympathetic ways. It's clear he'll bring that sensibility to The Shape of Water. Perhaps some of the story's point of view will be from The Creature's perspective, and/or The Creature will be treated lovingly through the gaze of Elisa's character. The Shape of Water also promises to explore various themes, such as perception of the “Other,” love-against-the-odds, and ethical issues related to scientific experiments. We might even get a Happily Ever After.

Mrs. Caliban by Rachel Ingalls

Despite my excitement for The Shape of Water, I can't help but notice something. A male director had the opportunity to make a film whose story is one in a long line of similar stories, namely, supernatural and sci-fi romances that have been written by countless women for decades. Case in point: Rachel Ingalls' Mrs. Caliban, a story about a housewife who falls in love with a sea monster, was released in 1982.

Kudos to del Toro for having an interest in this type of beauty and the beast romance, and no doubt he's one of a handful of filmmakers with the clout in Hollywood to get a movie like it made. That's no small feat, especially given the subject matter as well as the presence of a heroine with a disability (whose appearance is also, refreshingly, that of an everyday gal). And even del Toro doesn't have carte blanche to make all the films he wants to. However, that doesn't change the fact that when films like this do get made, it's usually a male filmmaker or a team of male filmmakers that are granted the opportunity.

The gender imbalance here is incredibly ironic given that hundreds of female romance authors have tackled similar stories and themes and yet their work is scorned with alarming frequency. “Vitriol” comes to mind regarding the perception of the romance genre in popular culture. The derision is that bad, as romance readers know all too well.

Plus, romances rarely receive the red-carpet treatment by major media outlets. Where's the Time magazine profile on all the great merpeople paranormal romances that have brought so much entertainment to thousands of readers all over the world? It's probably not going to happen anytime soon because the authors are women and women screenwriters and filmmakers, in general, have been mostly barred from the upper echelons of Hollywood.

I don't begrudge The Shape of Water the countless accolades it's likely to receive, but I will be noticing the gender disparity when it comes to the lack of similar recognition for the female romance authors who came before. This is an important conversation to have, and to keep having until validation for romance written/filmed by women happens at the same level and in all mediums as one film made by a man with a vast amount of privilege at his beck and call.

Fortunately, there's a whole subgenre of merpeople/sea creature paranormal romances available. The titles are too many to list here, but thankfully, they're easy to find with a bit of Googling! Sci-fi romance has also tackled the amphibious creature angle, including the following titles:

  • Europa Europa- KS Augustin
  • Refugees on Urloon- Melisse
  • Stellarnet Rebel- J.L. Hilton (given the plot and themes explored, this story is like The Shape of Water—in space)
  • True Believers- Maria Zannini

If you have a favorite romance along the lines of The Shape of Water to recommend, please let us know in the comments!

H&H Editor Picks:

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October 2017 Romance Novel New Releases Shopping List


Heather Massey seeks out sci-fi romance adventures and writes about them for Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly. She’s also an author in the subgenre. To learn more about her published work, visit

Subscribe to this conversation (must be logged in):
1. Kahintenn
I saw The Shape of Water at TIFF last month. You will not be disappointed!
3. Lady A.
I want so much to see this movie! Like: right now!!!
4. P. J. Dean
Wow. Looks like an actual romance instead of non-stop skin friction with inane dialogue
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