Pan’s Labyrinth was shown as part of Film4’s FrightFest and was a film that I had wanted to see for a long time. I had heard many positive things about the film yet I never actually sought out the film to watch. It was on my list of films to see, indeed it currently rests at #116 of IMDBs Top 250 films list, yet other films took its place and eventually I completely forgot about it. Had it not been a part of FrightFest, I more than likely would not have actually seen the film. I’m glad that I did.
Pan’s Labyrinth is set during 1944 in Franco’s Spain, where a young girl called Ofelia and her mother, Carmen, travel to a mill to stay with Captain Vidal, a psychopathic fascist officer who is the father of Carmen’s unborn child. Ofelia is obsessed with fairy tale stories and believes she sees a fairy in the woods, who leads her to a labyrinth near the mill.
One night, she ventures in there and encounters a Faun, who tells her that she is Princess Moanna, a young girl who once ventured into the world of man and never returned. Ofelia is given tasks to perform by the Faun so she can become the princess once again and return to her kingdom.
…Tensions mount as the resistance becomes more bold…
At the same time, Captain Vidal is tasked with trying to find and subdue a group of resistors hiding nearby, who are being aided by Vidal’s housekeeper, Mercedes. Vidal also awaits the birth of his son, yet is uninterested in either Carmen or Ofelia. Tensions mount as the resistance becomes more bold against Vidal and his men, whilst Ofelia herself encounters dangers of a mythical nature.
The tension builds towards the film’s conclusion, as Ofelia runs off with her baby brother to complete her final task whilst the rebels attack the mill. Captain Vidal pursues her into the labyrinth but loses her. I will not reveal the outcome of these events, but I will say that it is a brilliant ending, one which you be thinking about long after the movie is over.
…The merging of the character roles is done well and is interesting to watch…
What makes this film fresh is how Del Toro manages to unpick the tropes and conventions associated with fairy tales and the fantasy genre, and apply them to a ‘war film’. Captain Vidal, for instance, takes on the role of “evil step mother” from the fairy tale stories but also plays the role of a vicious fascist soldier; and Mercedes is similar to the fairy god mother yet also plays the role of underground resistor as seen in many World War 2 films. The merging of the character roles is done well and is interesting to watch.
The characters were completely believable. The Faun, as played by Doug Jones was a great character in the fantasy realm. You truly did not know whether to trust him or not. Ivana Baquero too was brilliant as Ofelia. Sergei Lopez played Captain Vidal not as a stereotypical fascist officer as seen in hundreds of war films, but as a human being. He was incredibly creepy and terrifying, yet believable.
…They take on the fairy tale look yet also retain a sense of realism…
The cinematography was good. There are many great action scenes in the film, such as where Vidal’s men attack the resistance in the woods. There are also lots of magnificent sets throughout the film, especially in the scenes set in fantasy realms. They take on the fairy tale look yet also retain a sense of realism.
The only problem I had with the film was that sometimes the CGI was jarring. The film made use of great prosthetic effects and I wondered why Del Toro decided to do some effects, especially gunshot wounds, with CGI when he could have got the same, if not a better effect with prosthetics.
Pan’s Labyrinth was a brilliant film, with an engaging storyline, brilliant characters and amazing cinematography. It manages to make the fantasy genre appear real and believable, yet also seem like a fairy tale story. I highly recommend it.