Sunday night’s Oscars saw Guillermo Del Toro take home the best picture and best director Oscars for his Monster romance The Shape of Water, and it’s a fitting reward not just for a beautiful film, but for a director who has stayed true to his passion for the monstrous and the fantastical throughout his career.

Beauty and the fish

The shape of water is the story of a mute woman with a penchant for boiled eggs, who falls in love with a humanoid fish-god being tortured and experimented on by scientists and a sinister G-man who will tear his own rotting fingers off to get answers.

Directed by almost anyone else this plot would be a trashy B-movie or an even trashier porno, but Guillermo Del Toro sculpts it into a beautifully vivid dream of a film.

Del Toro is the master at finding the fairy tale in every nightmare, without losing any of the alluring darkness.

The Shape of Water's Little Mermaid mixed with a healthy dose of The Creature from the Black Lagoon, as seen through the eyes of someone whose sympathies are firmly with the creature, again demonstrates del Toro's love of the magical, the mysterious and the monstrous.

Sympathy with the monster

“Since childhood, I’ve been faithful to monsters. I have been saved and absolved by them, because monsters, I believe, are patron saints of our blissful imperfection, and they allow and embody the possibility of failing,” said del Toro when accepting his Golden Globe for best director in January.

“For 25 years, I have handcrafted very strange little tales… and in three precise instances, these strange stories, these fables, have saved my life. Once with Devil’s Backbone, once with Pan’s Labyrinth and now with Shape of Water.”

As Spanish language films The Devil’s Backbone (2001) and Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) didn’t receive as much plaudits and attention as The Shape of Water, but they both demonstrate the same love and affection for the monster, as well as the same escape that fantasy can offer from the brutal horror of the real world.

In the case of The Devil’s Backbone, the ‘monster’ is a ghost, rather than haunting and tormenting the living protagonists, helps protect them from the very real and human villains.

Then comes Pan’s Labyrinth, arguably del Toro’s masterpiece, released the same year that The Departed won best picture. While The Departed is a decent remake of a far better Chinese film, Pan’s Labyrinth not only exists in another world of monsters and fairy tales, it exists on an entirely different artistic plane to The Departed.

And this is the point, so many Oscars are earned in the blood and tears of gritty realism and drama, but thanks to Guillermo del Toro’s determination to give magic and fantasy the same care and depth, the genres can finally be seen through the lens of a master artist and filmmaker.

This year the Oscars can, at last, say with pride ‘here be monsters’.