Remembering a Movie where the lead was mute is a real challenge - none immediately comes to mind. That's the risk "The Shape Of Water" takes, entrusting a character without words to communicate a spectrum of feelings to the audience. A movie needs the right actress to get the job done, which this film has. Does it have the other pieces to create one of the best films of 2017, though? It all depends on how much sci-fi period drama you can take in two hours.

About the movie

"The Shape of Water" is a fantasy drama movie. Directed by Guillermo del Toro, the film premiered in Venice in August before getting a United States release on December 1, 2017.

Elisa is a mute custodian working at a secret government lab in Baltimore during the Cold War. When a new creature comes into the lab, Elisa notices a shared bond, mostly over their inability to communicate with others around them. When Elisa realizes the creature is being tortured, she hatches a plan to break it out of the facility. But with the specter of Cold War tensions on the rise and a creature of unknown power on the loose, there's no safety for Elisa or her friends.

In love with the 'Shape of Water'

There is plenty to be impressed by in "The Shape of Water." It all starts and ends with Sally Hawkins, though. She expresses so much using just her face and her body language. There's never any doubt as to when she's happy, sad, aroused (which she is A LOT in this movie).

It's one of the best performances of the year.

Michael Shannon plays a convincing government agent gone somewhat rogue as well. He's developed a reputation for playing insane characters in insane movies, so this is no different. Scenes detailing his family life seem unnecessary, but his conflicted nature - along with his not-so-conflicted way of driving results - make him the movie's perfect antihero; an American villain in a Cold War caper.

The rest of the cast in "The Shape of Water" did their job in building an environment for the story to thrive within. Performances range from good to okay - no standouts, though. Even Octavia Spencer didn't move the needle much within her role.

Aliens without action

Movie fans have gotten all to use to alien movies involving a high degree of action and adventure.

This film doesn't have much of that. There are some shock moments where the creature pops up out of nowhere and there's some gunfire, but it's not an action movie. That may be a disappointment to some.

In fact, "The Shape of Water" sometimes gets bogged down deep in little moments that don't matter much (think Giles' battles with his former employer) that it becomes a little bit boring. There's not consistent entertainment on the screen to justify the two-hour run time.

At the beginning of the movie, del Toro tries a trick to draw in the audience. The camera shows a woman set up a timer, then shows her doing something that involves a lot of shaking in the bath. Yes, the shock factor is deployed to start "The Shape of Water," just to invite an audience that may not be comfortable with the film's premise off the bat.

It also makes it pretty uncomfortable to sit next to family members.

There's another trick, too. For those who saw "The Artist" a few years ago, it's instantly recognizable. Part of the wonder of that film was that it was a silent movie, hearkening back to the first days of cinema. The illusion didn't carry throughout the whole showing, though - at one point, sound intrusively entered into the landscape, wreaking havoc with the protagonist's head. For audience members, it was a disruptive reminder of what was lacking.

Elisa is mute in this film, but not for the whole duration. In a dream sequence, she suddenly gets the power of voice - song, actually. It dispels the illusion the movie has created in a somewhat cheap way.

Hawkins was doing a phenomenal job explaining emotion on her face and through her body - she didn't need a song, too.

Final thoughts

A drama with a strong heart and unique premise, "The Shape of Water" works mainly off the acting of Sally Hawkins, who should rival Frances McDormand in a closely-contested Oscar race. The rest of the movie, however, feels ordinary. It's a walk through the motions, with a somewhat anti-climactic and expected ending. It doesn't feel worthy of the endless praise heaped upon it.

Rating: B