Review by Jack Foley
DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Audio Commentary By Director Guillermo del Toro; Video Introduction By Director Guillermo del Toro; Guardian Interview At The NFT With Guillermo del Toro; Featurette’s; Director’s Notebook; Storyboard & Notebook Video Prologue; Storyboard/Thumbnail Comparisons; Theatrical Trailers; Picture Galleries.
HAVING dazzled mainstream viewers with Blade 2 and Hellboy Mexican director Guillermo del Toro returns to his roots for this deeply impressive adult fairytale that rates as one of the films of the year.
Set in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, Pan’s Labyrinth follows the fortunes of young Ofelia (Ivana Baquero), as she travels with her pregnant mother (Ariadna Gil) to stay with her new stepfather Captain Vidal (Sergi López) at a remote outpost.
But while Vidal spends his days ruthlessly pursuing anti-fascist rebels in the woods, Ofelia discovers the entrance to a strange labyrinth in the forest and befriends a mystical faun named Pan (Doug Jones), who informs her that she is the rightful heir to his kingdom.
In order to regain her place, however, the young girl must complete a number of dangerous tasks.
But as the line between the two worlds blurs, Ofelia finds herself torn between caring for her sick mother and unborn brother and fulfilling her unusual quest.
Pan’s Labyrinth derives its inspiration from a number of sources, including – most obviously – the Grimms’ fairytales, Alice In Wonderland and some of the imagination of Jim Henson. But it also owes much to the work of Spanish painter Goya (in particular, his gory creation Saturn Devours His Children), the illustrations of the director’s favourite Victorian illustrator, Arthur Rackham, and del Toro’s earlier work such as Cronos and The Devil’s Backbone.
As such, it’s a very adult tale that features some truly disturbing imagery, a consistently melancholy tone and some extreme moments of violence. But it’s an emotionally enriching experience that has some very important things to say for anyone willing to listen.
The depiction of the hell of war is particularly memorable and occupies a large part of proceedings, serving as a timely comment on some of today’s human rights abuses as well as a reminder that monsters aren’t merely confined to fantasy. Yet the triumph of the human spirit and man’s capacity for bravery and sacrifice is just as effectively relayed via some of the actions of Ofelia and the rebels hiding in the woods.
The director draws some exemplary performances from his Spanish cast, with young Ivana Baquero providing a fearless presence as the determined Ofelia and López revelling in his role of evil incarnate.
The most striking thing about Pan’s Labyrinth, however, is its look, which succeeds in mining the depths of del Toro’s wonderfully vivid imagination. The film juxtaposes the ugly with the beautiful in exemplary fashion, creating a world that’s fun to explore and impossible to forget.
Some of his creations, too, are incredibly striking, such as Pan himself, a horrific Pale Man (both played by Doug Jones) and an over-sized toad that Ofelia must confront and defeat as part of her journey.
All combine to create an experience that is truly unforgettable – a film that confronts the horror of war and fascism within the cleverly constructed confines of a fantasy adventure. It’s bold, inspired filmmaking that deserves the maximum praise.
Running time: 112mins