Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) Review: Beautiful & Captivating
“What happens when make-believe believes it’s real?”
Synopsis: In the falangist Spain of 1944, the bookish young stepdaughter of a sadistic army officer escapes into an eerie but captivating fantasy world.
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Pan’s Labyrinth is my favorite Guillermo del Toro movie, and among my favorite movies, period. Del Toro’s characteristic magical realism and lush visuals combine both the innocence and magic of childhood, but also the gritty cruelties of wartime. What’s more impressive is that neither story thread suffers in this juxtaposition. Instead, adulthood becomes more tragic and childhood more perilous.
Both story threads are equally compelling, if in wildly different ways, but Ofelia’s story is particularly captivating. The audience watches her as she seeks to escape the harsh realities of her life in her stepfather’s war camp; while Spain erupts in battle, she chases fairies and weaves charms to keep her mother safe. It’s both touching and painful to watch. Ivana Baquero does a wonderful job as Ofelia, and her interactions with Mercedes (Maribel Verdú) and the mysterious faun are particularly captivating. As she explores the world of magic, the audience is never quite sure how real the situation is – or how much danger she’s truly in. That uncertainty only grows as her quests become more perilous.
There is some terrible beauty in the gritty realism of the village the army uses, and especially the house Captain Vidal (Sergi López) uses, but it’s nothing compared to the sights Ofelia sees in the faun’s world. Aside from the CGI toad (which did not age well), the combination of practical and special effects works wonders here. It’s hard not to get drawn into the images in Ofelia’s book, and equally hard to avoid being terrified by the excellent Doug Jones as the Pale Man. (He also plays the physicality of the faun.)
This is a movie you don’t want to miss, even if fantasy isn’t normally your thing. As a fantastical horror piece, it’s beautiful and mesmerizing, but the true horror comes from the very human cruelties that the characters inflict on each other, and the helplessness of those around them. Be forewarned – as much as this is a fantasy and gore is kept to a minimum, there are some very rough scenes involving torture and death. Between that and the innocent wonder of it all, Pan’s Labyrinth is a movie that stays with you a long, long time.
Calamity Brains’ Rating: A
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