Director: Guillermo del Toro
If you were one of the millions of people who were scarred for life by watching the flying monkeys in “The Wizard of Oz”, it’s probably best to watch “Pan’s Labyrinth” with your eyes closed and with the sound off… and in a different room entirely. This film is a grim (not Grimm) fairy tale that's mired in horrific imagery and brutality, and ultimately offers way more "fairy" than "tale." Director Guillermo del Toro doesn’t shy away from showing any of it either, and almost takes sheer delight in systematically taking the horror up a notch with each scene. The plot is an attempt at simultaneously telling a story set during post-Civil War Spain, and a fantasy epic that ends up looking like “The Chronicles of Narnia”, if it were directed by… well, if it were directed by Guillermo del Toro.
Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) is a wide-eyed, imaginative young girl who arrives with her pregnant mother, Carmen (Ariadna Gil), at a makeshift military base/abandoned mill, manned by her new wicked stepfather, Captain Vidal (Sergi López i Ayats),who is also the father of Carmen’s unborn child. Captain Vidal is, basically as I mentioned, the wicked stepfather. He tortures, beats, abuses and terrorizes just about anybody he encounters, whether it be a spy in his midst, or innocent civilians. All the while, Ofelia is having visions of magical creatures swarming around the mill, and wanders into a Labyrinth, whose ruins stand nearby. It’s here that she encounters an ominous goat-like creature, who informs her that she is the princess of a magical world, who has finally returned. At the beginning of the story we’re informed that a princess went missing from this land, entered the human world and became mortal. Yet, someday she would return in another form. That form, apparently, is Ofelia. In order to make sure she’s qualified for the job, however, she needs to complete three less than interesting tasks to prove herself.
The other part of the story (that gets way too much of the attention) is the meandering Civil War tale involving Captain Vidal fighting the seemingly last throws of a resistance, while rooting out a traitor in his midst. Both stories are underwritten attempts at depicting loyalty and honor in an increasingly harsh reality, that feel like could have been closer tied, and better meshed. Ofelia’s plot thread takes a back seat through much of the middle section of the film causing it to lose its steam. And once we finally get back to the story, you’re reminded that it wasn’t that interesting to begin with.
There’s no denying that this film looks beautiful, and the make-up and effects blend seamlessly into the murky and overgrown scenery. On a horror film level, it works better than a lot of films. Del Toro creates some truly horrific and stunning visuals (i.e. the Faun, and the Pale Man). The Pale Man is a child-eating, eyeless (except for on his hands, of course), chicken-legged demon, whose lair and subsequent attempt to capture Ofelia works as its own mini-horror film. Although, I can't for the life of me figure out why Ofelia would eat from the banquet table if every character went out of their way to tell her that it was absolutely imperative not to. It's like those grapes were just calling out to her... hey, maybe that was it. The rest, sadly, is less than interesting, though. I wanted to like it, but was a little bored by what was being said. The two stories don’t add up to one that will engage its viewers in many ways, other than to shock or wow them with its imagery.