Film Review: Pan’s Labyrinth


Pan's Labyrinth

Guillermo del Toro has come into his own with his new Spanish-language film Pan’s Labyrinth, a stunning journey through two parallel worlds of cruel reality and uncompromising fantasy.

I was lucky enough to see this film over a month ago when we won free tickets to a sneak preview, and now that the film is in the cinemas it’s a pleasure to see it receive such wide acclaim. del Toro has definitely realised the potential he showed in relatively mainstream fantasy actioneers such as Blade II and Hellboy.

Pan’s Labyrinth tells the story of Ofelia (Ivana Baquero), a young girl forced to live with her ailing mother and cruel stepfather in the countryside of Spain in 1944. Her sadistic Fascist stepfather Capitán Vidal (a frightening Sergi López) is determined to rid the area of Republican sympathizers who are hiding out in the woods. The harsh reality of this story is interwoven with Ofelia performing several dangerous tasks given to her by a faun (Doug Jones) she encounters in a labyrinth near the house, who tells her she is the rightful princess of the underworld.

To his credit, del Toro doesn’t let either of the threads of his story—the real or the fantastic—dominate, but skillfully weaves them together, allowing each to reinforce the other. The fantastic world can be cruel and horrifying—the incredible Doug Jones is a very scary child-eating, tottering creature called the Pale Man whose skin hangs in loose folds and sees through eyeballs in his palms like stigmata—but the real world can be equally so—Vidal tortures and kills members of the resistance without emotion. While sometimes difficult to watch, the reality of both worlds is reinforced by the unflinching violence. This is not a film for kids, parents, even if it is about fairy tales!

Ivana Baquero plays the young Ofelia with an ‘unprocessed’ innocence and intensity, in sharp contrast to the cocky little adults Hollywood so often casts as children. Also excellent is Maribel Verdú, whose performance as the housekeeper is a lynchpin of the film.

Not surprisingly, the film looks stunning. It’s obvious that del Toro has thrown his heart and soul into this film, and any interview with the director will tell you how devoted he is to the telling of fairy tales—fairy tales, thankfully, in all their raw, original state, still dangerous, not the Disneyfied, G-rated versions.

Four and a half chalk lines out of five.

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Iain Cheyne
    Jan 22, 2007 @ 23:39:35

    I enjoyed the film overall, but it was way more violent than it needed to be.

  2. Universal Head
    Jan 23, 2007 @ 08:11:28

    I understand what you mean – my girlfriend felt the same. I thought it gave the film a very visceral, edgy feeling though, reinforcing the whole idea that ‘this is no fairy tale’ – this is dangerous, and real, and gritty and brutal. The fear of the occasional graphic scene put me on the edge of my seat and scared me a little, which was no doubt the idea.
    del Toro’s not known for restraint when it comes to violence, but in previous films it was more ‘cartoony’ (though I haven’t seen The Devil’s Backbone, his earlier film also set in Franco’s Spain).