The 90th Academy Awards are over. The golden statues went home after the glitz and glamor of the interminable production that gave the winners a chance to thank pretty much everybody they knew. And a big winner of the night is “The Shape of Water,” winning the coveted prize of Best Picture, Best Director, Best Music, and Best Production Design in addition to being nominated in nine other categories.

If you missed seeing “The Shape of Water” on the big screen, you can stream it to your heart’s content. This enigmatic film establishes a somber tone from the opening scenes and maintains it with a dream-like quality that’s both nuanced and measured. Juxtaposed against an unlikely love story, the dark, damp setting contributes greatly to the film’s unrelenting pull into the mystery of it all.

Imagine that feeling of falling in love, of falling in love against all common sense and logic. That’s exactly what happens to Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins) who works as a janitor at a secret government lab facility. Esposito wears her emotions on her sleeve and in her smile because she has no voice. Over the years of being silent, she has learned to communicate not only by signing, but also through the depths of her being.

It comes as no surprise that when an unusual specimen, an “Amphibian Man” (Doug Jones), arrives at the lab, chained, tortured, and clearly in pain, that Esposito finds mercy and love in her heart. Transported from a South American jungle where the natives believe him to be a god, the Amphibian Man has a build like a super-hero, but his scales, fins, and a strange fish face make him look like a giant lizard drawn to water. Indeed, he can live outside of the tank for hours at a time, but the water maintains him. 

Neither the Amphibian Man nor Esposito can speak, but their bond proves greater than words. After multiple beatings of the creature by security head Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon), Esposito determines to intervene with a rescue. She enlists the help of her eccentric neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins) and her co-worker Zelda Fuller (Octavia Spencer).

The little band will risk everything to save Amphibian Man. The Russians will become involved, and the lab’s authority will issue a death warrant, but determination and force of will conquer the obstacles.

The film’s ethereal essence, particularly in the water scenes, carries the greatest interest in the film. More meaningful than plot development and more interesting than the suspense of the rescue, the underlying mood communicated with nuance and care by the direction and “look” of the film captures the imagination.

Rated R for sexual content, graphic nudity, violence and language.

Marilyn Robitaille writes film reviews for the Stephenville Empire-Tribune and Glen Rose Reporter.