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The Curious Case of ‘The Space Between Us’ and ‘The Shape of Water’

Movie Reviews

The Curious Case of ‘The Space Between Us’ and ‘The Shape of Water’

Guillermo del Toro has garnered rave reviews and a handful of awards (plus serious Oscar buzz) for last year’s The Shape of Water, which the visionary filmmaker calls his proudest achievement. The film, starring Sally Hawkins as a mute janitor and Doug Jones as the fish creature she falls in love with, is undoubtedly pure Del Toro, and it’s one of the most beautiful and original monster movies to ever grace the big screen.

But was The Shape of Water actually inspired by The Space Between Us, a little-seen Dutch short that was initially released in the Netherlands in June 2015 before being uploaded online this past July? Marc S. Nollkaemper wrote and directed the 13-minute short, starring Elsa May Averill as, well, a woman who develops feelings for a fish creature housed inside of a tank; when she realizes it’s going to be crudely experimented on and probably killed, she breaks it out of the research center she works at…

“In a post-nuclear, oxygen-ridden future, humble cleaner Juliette has her loyalties tested when she falls for Adam, a captive merman whose gills are mankind’s last hope for survival.”

Beyond the general concepts being the same, one is strikingly similar to the other, right down to specific shots and an overall shared aesthetic. So what’s going on here?

According to Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water was inspired by Universal’s Creature from the Black Lagoon, and development on the project began as early as 2011. Filming didn’t take place until 2016, however, and the movie was of course released last year. As for The Space Between Us, we can confirm it was first shown in 2015.


ind you, we’re not hurling accusations towards Guillermo del Toro, but it’s impossible to watch The Space Between Us and not immediately notice the similarities. Then again, as Del Toro himself pointed out to the website Hollywood Elsewhere, he was making movies about a fish creature housed in a lab long before The Space Between Us was made.

After all, many Hellboy fans were initially convinced The Shape of Water was actually a top secret origin story for Abe Sapien, also played by Doug Jones.

What is funny is that I have two movies, Hellboy (’04) and Hellboy II: The Golden Army (’08), with an aquatic creature inside a super-secret tank in a large laboratory,” said Del Toro. “So that [general concept] is not exactly in the province of exclusivity.”

Del Toro told the site’s owner, Jeffrey Wells, that he hadn’t seen the short until this week.

It’s also worth noting that Guillermo del Toro began writing the script for The Shape of Water before The Space Between Us was even made, so it’s not outside the realm of possibility that what we’re dealing with here is nothing more than a crazy coincidence. Honestly, we don’t know what to make of it. But we can say that we love both films.

What say you? Sound off below.


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Lilith Stormbornwas born in Hampshire, UK, and now lives in the United States near Minneapolis. As a child he discovered her love of books, reading, and stories, devouring the works of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, James Branch Cabell, Edgar Allan Poe, Michael Moorcock, Ursula K. LeGuin, Gene Wolfe, and G.K. Chesterton. A self-described "feral child who was raised in libraries," Gaiman credits librarians with fostering a life-long love of reading: "I wouldn't be who I am without libraries. I was the sort of kid who devoured books, and my happiest times as a boy were when I persuaded my parents to drop me off in the local library on their way to work, and I spent the day there. I discovered that librarians actually want to help you: they taught me about interlibrary loans."

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