Thanks to director Guillermo Del Toro’s latest cinematic vision El Labertino del Fuano (Pan’s Labyrinth), I may never sleep again. I saw things on the movie screen last night-nightmarish things-that I may never be able to erase from my mind for as long as I live. I’m not so sure I would want them erased though, for haunting and disturbing as they were to behold, they were equally beautiful and powerful.
Pan’s Labyrinth tells the tale of Ofelia, a young girl traveling with her pregnant mother to a mill in the remote forests of Spain in 1944, where the military is attempting to eliminate the last vestiges of opposition left over from the Spanish Civil War. Ofelia has been traumatized deeply by the horrors of the war; losing her real father, being forced to leave her home in the city behind, and seeing her Mother married and impregnated by the cruel and sadistic Captain Vidal, who mercilessly seeks to torture and wipe out the guerilla freedom fighters hiding in the woods.
To cope with this harsh reality, Ofelia escapes into her fairy tale books and creates a dark fantasy world around her where she is an ancient Princess of a mystical kingdom populated with a menagerie of bizarre and terrifying creatures. Chief among these strange monsters is the horned, cloven-hoofed Faun, who serves as Ophelia’s guide. The Faun tells Ophelia that if she can complete three dangerous tasks, her spirit can escape the mortal body she is trapped in and reclaim her place in the fantasy realm.
Del Toro’s previous works (Blade 2, Mimic, Hellboy) displayed a dynamic visual style, but they were all slick Hollywood fare, adapted from other creators’ source material with the intent of mass-market appeal. With Pan’s labyrnith, Del Toro gets to take all of his finest brushes out and paint a completely original picture for the audience. The results are nothing short of astonishing. It’s one of the most visually stunning movies you will ever see, with brilliant color pallets for each of the worlds presented. Ofelia’s miserable existence in the bleak old mill house, living under the tyrannical rule of Captain Vidal is a washed-out canvas of cold greys, blues and blacks. The mystical world of the Faun, however, has a warm, earthy color scheme of reds, oranges, browns, and greens.
Despite the lure of fairies and wondrous imaginary beings, this is absolutely not a film that should be viewed by children under any circumstances. There are scenes of horrific violence and torture, and that’s just in the “real world”. Ofelia’s fantasy kingdom is occupied by hideous abominations that can live on in a child’s nightmares for years. The Pale Man sequence, in particular, is utterly horrifying. It’s the scariest, most disturbing imagery I have ever seen in a motion picture. Pan’s Labyrinth is a serious, metaphorical commentary on the atrocities that war can inflict on the innocent, and there can be no denying that Del Toro has crafted a true masterpiece. It’s a brutal, haunting film that weighs on your soul long after the final images fade from the projector. Mesmerizing and brilliant.
9.0 out of 10