General Release 2006
119 minutes approx
Directed by -
Guillermo del Toro
Written by -
Guillermo del Toro
Ofelia and her mother, travel from the city to join her new stepfather in the hills where, as a Captain in Franco's army, he hunts down the rebels. Her mother is very ill in the last stages of pregnancy with what the Captain is sure to be the son to carry on his glorious family name. Getting away from the Captain's ruthless brutality in the camp, Ofelia discovers an ancient labyrinth with a faun at the centre. The faun determines that Ofelia is the daughter of the king of the underworld who has forgotten her real identity and needs to carryout three tasks in order to regain her identity and her kingdom.
Writing a fairytale for adults is a tricky business - ask M Night Shyamalan who got burned with his recent Lady In The Water.
It's a film of two sections, of course, the real life situation and the fantasy. The real life story is actually the more fascinating of the two, impeccably mounted by Guillermo Del Toro, tense and dangerous. Sergi Lopez as the Captain is the real monster of the piece, his brutality made all the worse for being carefully calculated to the best effect. What he does in the storage shed is squirm-inducingly awful despite our not seeing it. The manner in which he despatches his enemies, with the minimum effort and maximum effect is studied and meticulous and all the more evil for it. He towers over the story and when he is on screen there is a dark threat hanging over each and every member of the cast, including Ofelia, her mother and Mercedes, the housemaid who is secretly working for the rebels. The pain and violence inflicted here is real and is depicted unflinchingly.
This part of the story could have stood alone as a plot and would have made a brilliant film, but there is also the magic and mystery of the titular labyrinth to explore. Del Toro's mythos (unlike that of Shyamalan's) is simple and quickly explained. Ofelia is the princess of the Underworld and must carry out three tasks to reclaim her place. The first is to put magic stones in the mouth of a frog. The second is to steal a knife from the room of the sleeping Pale Man and the third....well the third comes at the end. The imagery that Del Toro presents us with in the fantasy segments is startling. From the insects that turn into fairies to Pan the faun himself by way of a worryingly lively mandrake root, there is wonder and grotesqueness enough for anyone. Above all of this there is the image of the Pale Man, a sleeping creature whose eyes are to be found either on the plate in front of him or in the palms of his hands. He has no other purpose in the plot other than to frighten Ofelia, and the audience, silly. The giant bullfrog that turns inside out is just plain gross. Both of these creatures help to account for the 15 certificate.
The brutality of the real world is matched in the fantasy realm. The Pale Man does for the fairies in short, and bloody order, the mandrake root comes to a nasty end and the final test is a test of blood. The problem with the film comes with the melding of the real and the fanciful. Apart from the violence, one bears no relation to the other, neither interferes with the other (except the Mandrake root helping Ofelia's mother) and nothing learned in one really helps in the other. Audiences that don't buy into the whole fantasy thing might be left wondering quite what the point was.
Ivana Baquero is never less than wonderful as Ofelia, stoic in the presence of real life brutality and dreamlike monstrosity. Her presence anchors the film and makes the ending a little less hard to take (and doesn't Del Toro have cojones of steel to go through with that where Hollywood would not have dared).
Though it never quite manages to gel the two bloody sides of its personality together, there is so much that is exciting, gross, challenging, startling and wonderful about PAN'S LABYRINTH that this proves to be a niggle compared what is destined to be one of the finest genre acheivements this year.
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