Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
Release Date: December 29th, 2006 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Guillermo del Toro Actors: Ivana Baquero, Sergi Lopez, Maribel Verdu, Doug Jones, Ariadna Gil, Alex Angulo, Manolo Solo, Roger Casamajor
reamy little Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) is taken to an army stronghold with her pregnant mother Carmen (Ariadna Gil), to live with her stepfather, the merciless Captain Vidal (Sergi Lopez). It is 1944, in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, as the fanatical Vidal anxiously plots to destroy a remnant rebel group hiding in the surrounding forest. In her isolation and powerlessness, immersed in violence and cruelty, Ofelia explores a stone labyrinth in the courtyard outside their residence, which houses the magical faun Pan (Doug Jones). As he bestows upon her several daunting tasks, Ofelia lives out her own dark fable as she confronts monsters both hellishly alien and all too human.
The character and creature designs are simply phenomenal. The human roles are sharply, vividly depicted, allowing the audience to truly despise the villains (there’s nothing worse than feeling sorry for the bad guy when he gets it in the end) and root for the heroes (who are wholly, monumentally triumphant). But it’s the lumbering monstrosities in the faun’s lair that are the true visual feasts, including Pan himself, a minotaur-like giant covered with scaly skin and fleshy branches and leaves, and crowned with enormous, curled horns. The Pale Man is also a prime example of macabre genius; he’s a pasty white humanoid with thick, sagging flesh, and bloody red eyeballs affixed in the palms of his hands, requiring him to thrust his appendages forward to guide his twitching stride. The attention to details is staggering; both characters employ brilliant prosthetics, makeup, and costuming, magnificently brought to life by actor Doug Jones. And to further stupefy the viewer, the full-body designs include fragile, stilt-like legs, which couldn’t possibly house a man in a rubber suit.
Refusing to enthrall with visual effects alone, “Pan’s Labyrinth” employs a one-of-a-kind, adult fairy tale full of imaginative originality. Alongside predefined mythological concoctions, such as fairies and a mandrake, the film also melds familiar fantasy notions (kings, princesses, spirits, reincarnation, and immortality) with its abundance of devilish monsters. The central motif is a brilliant parallel to those abominations, fusing themes of fervid imagination and brutal reality against love, innocence, bravery, and sacrifice. With the gritty background of the Nationalists/Spanish Maquis skirmishes to counter the morbid beauty of Pan’s realm, Ofelia’s hallucinatory odyssey is both an ethereal escape and a nightmarish prison.
The acting is also commendable, most notably from young Ivana Baquero, who evokes an exquisite blend of compassion and wonderment. Her sinlessness nicely clashes with Vidal’s ruthlessness; one of many extreme contrasts that intensify the magnificence and the horrors of the picture. Guillermo del Toro, working with regular director of photography Guillermo Navarro (a likely nominee for the Best Cinematography Oscar), focuses on ominous structures, old creaking buildings, and winding stone mazes that outline the densely forested landscape, to create a vision of dark fantasy devoid of sunny skies and cheery visages. Meanwhile, an utterly hypnotizing lullaby opposes the vicious war brutality and jarring scenes of torture. In many ways, the fantasy elements are as terrifying as the realities of armed conflict, despite exhibiting a dual sense of pleasing mysticism. This is definitely not a fable aimed at children.
It’s rare to see a production of such breathtaking magnitude, with an absolutely singular vision and spellbinding fantasy components. Rightfully winning several Best Foreign Language film awards from various critics circles, as well as a Golden Globe nomination, it’s similarly primed to pick up a nod from the Academy. “Pan’s Labyrinth” is, without question, one of the greatest films of the year (if not the decade) – foreign or otherwise.
– Mike Massie