With Halloween just around the corner, I decided that this fortnight’s review will be examining one of my favourite dark dramas, namely, Mexican writer/director Guillermo del Toro’s “El laberinto del fauno” (2006). Known simply in English as “Pan’s Labyrinth”.
The film begins in a magical kingdom, where the King’s daughter, Princess Moanna, desires to see the human world. Once there the Princess suffers from memory loss, and falls ill and dies. The King, however, believes that her spirit will one day return. The film then cuts to the mid 1940’s, in post-civil war Spain. It tells the story of Ofelia, a young girl whose Mother, Carmen, has just remarried. Her husband is Captain Vidal, a cruel, sadistic man who believes strongly in fascism and who aims to bring down those that opposite it. When Ofelia and the pregnant Carmen move to the remote mill where Vidal is stationed, it is not long before Ofelia, a lover of fairy tales, discovers the magical world that surrounds her new home. In a wild and mysterious labyrinth not far from the mill, Ofelia meets a magical faun, who believes Ofelia to be the reincarnated Princess. The faun sets Ofelia three tasks to undertake to prove her worth; firstly to retrieve a key from the belly of a giant toad, secondly, to retrieve a dagger from the monstrous Pale Man, and finally, to shed a drop of blood from an innocent. This last task would open the portal for the Princess to return home.
In this film, del Toro manages to create a world that is simultaneously beautiful, tragically sad and terribly unnerving all at the same time. The film is exceptionally dark, both literally and in its subject matter, with Ofelia’s reality full of war, sickness and violence. In fact, it is little wonder that Ofelia willingly delves herself in the magical world shown to her by the faun, in an attempt to escape all that brutality. And be warned, this film is brutally violent at times. Even after seeing it multiple times, I still find some scenes hard to watch. However, for me, this film achieves what the Harry Potter franchise was always missing. A sense of purity and innocence contrasted against worlds of magic, cruelty and darkness. The eerie soundtrack helps to create that fantastic sense of magic. The young Spanish actress, Ivana Baquero, does a great job as Ofelia, a scared young girl who feels lost in her surroundings. The other star of the film is Spanish actor Sergi López, who does a superb job as the hateful and menacing Captain.
For those who do not know the work of del Toro, than you are in for a treat. The film maker has such a vivid imagination, which you see come to life in the mythical creatures of the movie. The faun, and the Pale Man in particular, are fantastic creatures that are both uniquely beautiful and completely enthralling to watch. They seem to be straight out of a child’s nightmare. And perhaps they are. Del Toro leaves the ending ambiguously, leaving debate open as to whether the magical world did truly exist, or if it all took place inside Ofelia’s mind as she tried to escape her nightmarish reality. Either way, I whole heartedly recommend this film to all those who come across it.
Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
Directed by: Guillermo del Toro
Stars: Ivana Baquero, Doug Jones, Sergi López, Maribel Verdú and Ariadna Gil
Distributed by: Warner Bros (Spain), Picturehouse (United States)
Running time: 112 min
Em’s rating: 4.5/5