Pan’s Labyrinth Review

Dir: Guillermo Del Toro
Starring: Ivana Baquero, Sergi López, Maribel Verdú, Doug Jones
Run. Time: 119mins
Format: Spanish, English Subtitles

Pan’s Labyrinth is the latest offering from Mexican director Guillermo Del Toro who you may be familiar with from his work on either Hellboy or Blade 2. Blade 2, I thought, was a fairly standard action flick but Hellboy tends to have those who either love or hate it. I am one of the former. If you have any preconceptions about Del Toro from either of these films forget them right now. Pan’s Labyrinth is an utterly different journey.

The film is the story of a young girl, Ophelia, in Spain at the end of the Civil War. Her family are involved in the Fascist campaign and are at an outpost trying to mop up the remaining guerrillas. She discovers a magical realm and the film follows her adventures in both.

When I say it is a fairy tale do not take this lightly. It is truly a fairy tale in the classical sense as well as being a hard-hitting war drama. The transition between these two things you may assume would be clumsy and seemingly ridiculous but in Pan’s Labyrinth it makes almost perfect sense, contrasting the otherworldly horrors with the horror of the war in the real world. The skill with which this is achieved shows truly how visionary Del Toro is and reminds us that in a time apparently saturated with sequels and remakes that there is brave originality left in our entertainers.

Pan’s Labyrinth had me gripped from the start. It deals with a plethora of issues and themes but unlike films such as Donnie Darko brings them together in a coherent and striking manner. It touches on what it means to be a soldier, socialism, family dynamics, loyalty, torture, the power of innocence, temptation and many others and explores them in incredible depth. Imagery is a big part of the film and some of the creature designs were among the most disturbing I’ve ever witnessed. The depiction of the war itself was also note-perfect with the brutality needed in war shown in full but not cheapened by excessive violence. The fantasy realm that our young heroine visits is also spectacularly realised and demonstrates how special effects can be utilised subtly, a process begun in Hellboy but which has become noticeably more refined here.

There are a range of characters in Pan’s Labyrinth, all displaying sufficient depth. My one complaint would perhaps be the over dehumanisation of the character of the Fascist captain, but reasons for this within the film are explored. All of the characters are portrayed with grace and subtlety by the cast and Doug Jones (Abe Sapien in Hellboy) is a revelation as a variety of fairytale creatures.

This is a film that you should really try to see but it is not for the faint of heart. The brutality is unrelenting and the imagery unforgiving but amidst all of this ugliness lies true beauty and a masterpiece by a prolific film-maker. It is beautifully shot and slowly builds to a deeply touching finale. This film will entertain you and give you pause for thought and questioning on aspects of the film itself and that of our own world. If you enter the cinema with an open mind Pan’s Labyrinth will be a truly rewarding experience.

Originally posted Thursday, 7 December 2006

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