The idea for The Shape of Water formed during del Toro's breakfast with Daniel Kraus (whom he would later co-write the novel Trollhunters) in 2011. Del Toro then began working on the film, he self-financed a crew that designed both the creature and the world. Del Toro called it the most difficult movie he and his team have ever designed. Del Toro would go on to work on this film for the next several years, and developed it before he began production on Pacific Rim (2013). Eventually, he chose to direct this film instead of Pacific Rim: Uprising (2018). It was finally confirmed in March 2016 when The Hollywood Reporter reported that the film was in development which would star Sally Hawkins and Octavia Spencer, and which del Toro would write, produce and direct for Fox Searchlight Pictures. The film would be set in the Cold War era. Del Toro originally wanted to shoot the film in black and white, but due to budget restraints, decided against it. Del Toro first pitched the film to Hawkins when they first met at the 2014 Golden Globes, and pitched the film to her while being intoxicated; "I was drunk and it's not a movie that makes you sound less drunk". Ironically, when she was offered the lead role in this film, Hawkins herself was working on a script for a short film about a woman who turns into a fish. Hawkins researched Charles Chaplin, Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Buster Keaton and Audrey Hepburn for her part. Del Toro bought her a Blu-ray collection featuring the performers prior to filming. By May, Michael Stuhlbarg and Michael Shannon had joined the cast. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, del Toro confirmed his frequent collaborator Doug Jones would play the creature in the film. Jones commented: "...I played a creature in it, in a full rubber, you know, transformation from head to toe. ... Sally Hawkins is like the lead of the movie, and the one I had most of my scenes with." Jones spent three hours every day getting into the costume. According to him, it was nothing compared to previous costumes he has worn in other films by del Toro. Filming began in August 2016 in Toronto and Hamilton, Ontario, with a budget of $30 million. Filming took twelve weeks, and it wrapped in November 2016. In December 2016, Alexandre Desplat was announced to score the film. Desplat's whistling can be heard in the soundtrack. Del Toro wanted the score to feature whistling because it contrasted how many scenes of the film feature water. In July 2017, the first trailer for the film was released. Despite visual similarities, del Toro has denied that this film has any connections to Hellboy (2004). The film was screened in the main competition section of the 74th Venice International Film Festival and premiered on August 31, 2017. It would later win the main award, The Golden Lion, the first English-language movie since Somewhere (2010).
The film stars Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Doug Jones, Michael Stuhlbarg, and Octavia Spencer. The cast gave terrific performances that was outer worldly and more multi-lated than one would expect. Both Hawkins and Jones gave incredibly physical performances that radiated soulfulness and outer worldly beauty without uttering a single word. Performances that harken back to performances of the silent era to the performances of the golden age of horror films. They were just simply wondrous. Shannon's multi-layered performance was the key throughout the film, as his character in the film epitomizes the human theme of the film. He has joined the rank of del Toro's greatest antagonists, a character who is both unsettling and chivalrous. Stuhlbarg, Jenkins and Spencer gave scene-stealing performances that is sure to get some award buzz.
The Shape of Water is Beauty and the Beast for grown-ups, with the horrors of both reality and fantasy blended together into an extraordinary, spellbinding fable like Pan's Labyrinth. The film is another epic, poetic vision from Guillermo del Toro in which a love story is set in a period of history that examined what made America great and horrible. It is a fairy tale of such potency and awesome beauty that it reconnects the adult imagination to the primal thrill and horror of the stories that held us spellbound as children. It works on so many levels that it seems to change shape even as you watch it. Del Toro has crafted a masterpiece, a visually wondrous fairy tale love story for adults that blends the beloved del Toro fantasy elements and the melodrama of Douglas Sirk into one of the most magical films to come along in years. It is so breathtaking in its artistic ambition, so technically accomplished, so morally expansive, so fully realized that it defies the usual critical blather. See it, and celebrate that rare occasion when a director has the audacity to commit cinema. The film is one of those rare beasts, with a sense of genuine permanency. It beds down in your mind, like it is preparing to live there for a while. It is not pretty, but it is, sometimes, very beautiful. But even in a year where cinema is not at its finest, I'm unable to see everything. And I'm still not finished with my 2017 discoveries. I'm still looking for more movies to watch until the end of the year. Nothing I am likely to see, however, is likely to change my conviction that the year's best film is The Shape of Water. It's simply bewitchingly bonkers.