Although Guillermo Del Toro recently revealed that the real reason for his Pacific Rim 2 departure was the rather prosaic “scheduling issues,” the film he made in the interim is anything but. Fox Searchlight has released the first trailer for The Shape Of Water, an otherworldly romance directed and co-written by Del Toro. The film stars Sally Hawkins as Elisa, a lonely, mute woman who’s on the cleaning staff at a covert government facility run by Michael Shannon’s Strickland. Elisa’s daily routine, which the trailer perfectly captures in all its humdrum detail, and her life are upended when she connects with the aquatic creature (Del Toro repertory player Doug Jones) being studied at the lab. Their unexpected romance goes over poorly, even with Elisa’s otherwise supportive neighbor (Richard Jenkins), and it’s not long before Strickland wants to gut the poor creature.

The trailer is full of the intricate and lush visuals Del Toro’s made his bones on, as well as the creeping sense of uncertainty that can be found in his other fantasy films. Although Jones has slapped on gills before, this creature looks unlike anything else the Hellboy director has created. Elsewhere, Hawkins’ Elisa hides a backbone of steel and a heart of gold under her prim uniform. And while he doesn’t yell at anyone to catch that fish, Shannon shows the same unsettling zeal he had in Boardwalk Empire, reminding us of the Cold War paranoia that’s bound to inform the film.

The Shape Of Water bobs into theaters December 18.