Pan's Labyrinth Review
'While this is a fantasy fairy-tale film, it is much more Grimm than it is Disney.
The themes are dark, disturbing and alien.'
Del Toro's magic story immerses you into a Spanish fairy-tale culture that is both enchanting and frightening with monsters like nothing I've ever seen. This 3 time Oscar winning film is brilliant; Guillermo Del Toro did a marvellous job and his film is foreign in more ways than one. Yes, it is a Spanish film entirely in subtitles. But, it broaches subject matter that is both uncomfortable and alien, foreign because it is beyond the realms of Western experience. The subtitles add to the effect, imbuing Del Toro's magical world with more mysticism. It amplifies the cultural differences and makes for one spectacular viewing experience!
Let yourself be transported to Spain (1944) and experience the story of Ofelia (Ivana Baquero). Thrust into a war-torn world she discovers an unusual and magical escape. Her pregnant mother marries sadistic army commander Vidal (Sergi Lopez) who is battling local rebel forces. Her world descends into a form of hell, transformed with pain and hurt inflicted by her stepfather whose lack of love for Ofelia is made clear in his readiness to dispose of her. As Ofelia's world is destroyed a fairy comes to her taking her to meet a faun. He explains how she is a long lost princess of a mystical land and there she has a father longing for her return. To prove she is royalty she is given a trio of desperate and dangerous tasks, each harder and more fantastical in nature then the last. Massive toads and the infamous Pale Man haunt the screen and capture your nightmares in film. Ofelia's courage is tested as she battles monstrous magical figures alongside her abusive stepfather and the dwindling clock on her mothers life.
The real highlight is the monsters Ofelia sees, they are entirely makeup and costume. The painstaking detail on each of them is just incredible. It is through this that we are drawn into Ofelia's world of wonder, from the creaking way the faun moves as if a thousand years old to the lifelike flaps of skin the infamous Pale Man has hanging of his chin and arms. The makeup and costume design is the real enchanting part of this film and allows the monsters to move like humans, giving them a creepy familiarity. This just makes them all the more haunting. While this is a fantasy fairy-tale film, it is much more Grimm than it is Disney. The themes are dark, disturbing and alien.
Guillermo Del Toro (Director) uses these dark themes to explore how a child growing up in an angry world escapes it using fantasy and magic. As her reality becomes darker and darker, the audience questions whether even her magic world can light up this film. Del Toro plays with the idea of fantasy as childlike but he twists it making it dark and dangerous, it is an escape from reality but it is not the escape that Ofelia was expecting. Ivana Baquero is an incredible lead in this film, considering her age her performance is mature, nuanced and anchors the film that unfolds around her. Sergi Lopez plays the typical villain and it is not a unique performance. It fits within the film well but pales compared to Ivana, Lopez is scary but only because he is a large threat to a character that you come to love.
Whether you are a fan of fairy-tales or just a supporter of foreign film and culture, or even just a fan of film, this Oscar winner will bring some life to your screen. It is magical and enchanting. It explores darker themes than most Western films and for this it must be hailed.