'The Shape of Water' flows into sweet, strange love story

Sally Hawkins in 'The Shape of Water'

(CNN)Guillermo del Toro's visual artistry thrives in the realm of fantasy. The director funnels those skills into a sweet but strange container with "The Shape of Water," a sensual if not fully buoyant reimagining of monster classics that essentially transforms "The Creature from the Black Lagoon" into an unlikely land-sea love story.

For those who consider "Pan's Labyrinth" del Toro's masterpiece, that status remains unthreatened by this appealing but relatively slight film, which is intriguingly set during the early 1960s, informed by a Cold War sensibility