Saturday, 19 September 2020
Pan's Labyrinth
Written by Sandra Fitzpatrick   
Tuesday, 30 January 2007 00:00
A little girl escapes the horrors of the real world for the horrors of her imagination in Pan’s Labyrinth, the latest offering from visionary director Guillermo Del Toro.

Taking his cue from the disturbing moralistic fairy tales of the past, Del Toro has crafted a visually opulent world where a child’s darkest dreams seem real. I don’t mean the colorful Disney creations where they all live happily ever after. Real fairy tales involved cannibalism, stepmothers being boiled alive, sexual predators lurking in the woods - definitely not what we would consider kids stuff by today’s standards! But I’m getting off topic. Pan’s Labyrinth doesn’t come from the pages of Grimm but from the inspired mind of Del Toro himself.

As the film begins eleven-year old Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) travels with her pregnant mother to the countryside estate of her new stepfather. The sadistic Captain Vidal (Sergi Lopez) has little tolerance for her dreamy ways and seems only to care for his unborn son. While the threat of Spanish rebels holds the Captain’s attention, Ofelia is left to deal with the violence around her by delving into a fantasy world.

On her first night she is visited by a fairy-like creature who leads her into the labyrinth at the back of the house. There she meets the title character Pan, a faun who looks curiously like he’s made of organic wood. He tells her that she is actually a princess from another world who must perform three tasks before she can join her true father in his kingdom. If she fails at these tasks, or if she disobeys, she will be condemned to remain on earth forever.

From here on in several stories are masterfully woven together and they are all so involving it was easy to forget the world outside of the theatre! Ofelia’s fantasy world parallels the real one, but it isn’t hard to see which is the most horrific. We meet many strange and monstrous characters along the journey, but Captain Vidal is the true monster in the film. His scenes are incredibly tense and he is prone to moments of brutality that are shocking.

I was especially impressed with the creature designs. By mixing puppets, prosthetics and computer effects they seem more organic and real. One in particular won’t soon be forgotten. The Pale Man stands out as the creepiest of the characters, carrying his eyeballs in his hands. I was reminded of the amazing creature effects in Silent Hill, which failed miserably on story but visually was a huge success.

Del Toro is quickly becoming a master of the macabre with films like Hellboy and Mimic under his Hollywood belt. But his true masterpieces are the Spanish language films that are entirely his own creations. I highly recommend The Devil’s Backbone, a ghost story also set against the backdrop of Spanish civil war. Its tone is very similar to that of Pan’s Labyrinth.

Pan’s Labyrinth is everything I hoped it would be: beautiful, emotional, violent, melancholy and disturbing; but most of all - memorable. I give it 8 out of 10.