One of the more unique stories to come out of Hollywood this year is a quirky and possibly classic love story of sorts, where a misunderstood creature and a lonely, compassionate woman find each other in the most unlikely of circumstances.

“The Shape of Water” is Guillermo Del Toro’s latest in an impressive resume of fantastical fairy tales with an emphasis on beautiful imagery and sharp attention to detail. As critically acclaimed as it has become in limited release, and as excited as I was to view it, I wasn’t particularly blown away by either the characters or the story.

Set in 1960s Baltimore, lonely, mute Elisa (Sally Hawkins) lives a simple life. Bound to her daily routine, and spending what little spare money she has on shoes, she lives modestly and works in a top-secret government facility mopping floors and cleaning bathrooms with her best friend, Zelda (Octavia Spencer).

Her life is disrupted when the enigmatic and misunderstood Amphibian Man (Doug Jones) is brought in to be studied by Dr. Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg) in an attempt to gain an advantage over the Russians in the space race. Security specialist Strickland (Michael Shannon) accompanies the creature as the antagonistic alpha-male, but all the while, Elisa develops an odd attraction to Amphibian Man that develops like a fish-out-of-water love story.

Sally Hawkins is magnificent portraying Elisa. She relies on sign language and conveys the most nuanced emotions through her eyes in a spectrum ranging from despair to compassion, and elation. Although the character lacks substance, there is an empathetic quality that she demands, and her spirit is pure and kind, which makes her as superficially likable as she is peculiar. Her neighbor, in their quaint apartments over the movie theater, is Giles, played by the ever-entertaining Richard Jenkins. His eccentric gay artist character reluctantly joins her in her adventure, but exudes the kindness of heart that is the centerpiece of the love story (as does Spencer’s Zelda). It is the goodness of the three main characters that drives the shallow and light-hearted story, but it is the darkness of the anti-hero that provides the real entertainment.

Michael Shannon is truly one of my favorite actors, and he portrays anger and aggression perhaps better than just about anyone else in the industry. His ability to go from zero to fuming in an instant is unnerving, and this is certainly one of his better performances in recent memory (see him in “Revolutionary Road” and “Take Shelter,” if you haven’t already). His character has more depth than any of the others, and I just wish Del Toro had invested a bit more time in his development and evolution. There was a performance ripe for the portrayal, but he wasn’t given quite the chance to unleash it. As great as it is, I wanted more.

Doug Jones is a close second to motion-capture -creature player Andy Serkis in terms of pure physical talent. Jones is outstanding playing creatures of all sorts in Del Toro’s films, but his movements as the 21st century Creature from the Black Lagoon are especially remarkable, and kudos must go to the makeup artists and special effects designers as well. His Amphibian Man is the freak show or oddity surrounded by human drones going about their meaningless lives, and that idea is certainly highlighted, though to what end I’m not entirely sure.

“The Shape of Water” excels in the artistic vision where it lacks other substance. Every detail is thoughtfully colored to enhance or subdue the mood on the screen, with a soft combination of greens and blues when Elisa is on the screen, starkly contrasted with yellows to signify Shannon’s Strickland. Reds enter at times to show both love and death, and although I didn’t completely follow Del Toro’s methodology for color coordinating, I found it visually pleasing and delightful. I’m sure there’s a deeper meaning hidden somewhere in his mind, but that’s another editorial. Suffice to say, the film is beautiful and unique, but hollow beyond the surface glitz.

I would expect several awards nominations, but this film fails to make my top-ten list, which is a disappointment. Is it a visual feast? Absolutely. Are the actors compelling? The acting, yes; the characters, no. Is it an entertaining film? I guess so, but the surrealism and quirky artistic moves prevent it from being a great film.