Beatings, stabbings, shootings, amputations, miscarriages...such is the fare of the non-fairytale world of Pan's Labyrinth. And in the too-rare moments of fantasy, there's a spewing frog and a baby-eating beast that bites the heads off fairies.
Conning you with a fairytale content that isn't the film's focus, this is more Schindler's List than The Neverending Story or Narnia. A young girl goes with her pregnant mother to stay with her step-father, a captain of a Fascist outpost in Civil War Spain. All he wants is a son.
With a head full of fairytales, little Ofelia finds her way into the Labyrinth of Pan, a faun who claims Ofelia is the long-lost princess of the underworld. If she passes three tests, she'll regain her identity. Meanwhile, up top, guerillas - aided by a spy in the Captain's camp - are waging a losing war. And woe betide anyone who's caught. Torture's too good.
The stuff of nightmares, Pan's Labyrinth is shot through with fear, cruelty and visceral violence. Director Del Toro presumably intends the dark fantasy to convey the girl's way of dealing with the dawning disaster of her everyday world. It never hangs together though.
Del Toro's emphasis is always on the torture and terror above ground. Close-ups of wounds, blood and fear betray Del Toro's primary fascination with our gut-reaction to gore. In Blade II it was appropriate. Here it detracts. David Cronenberg or might have pulled it off or Tim Burton or Terry Gilliam. But Del Toro stitches two stories together - and names his film after the lesser half.
Surprisingly bold, it upends the traditional happy-ever-after ethos of fairytales and fables. Brutal and humourless, Pan's Labyrinth is the cinematic equivalent of a bad dream. If there's a point, that's probably it.
Glenn Watson (DI Reviewer), 21/03/07
Some excellent cinematography but I thought the torture scenes and brutal violence were far too explicit for a movie with this rating. Some of the characters were well played but the villan is one dimensional and the fairy tale ending is shallow and emotionless. I left the cinema feeling sorry I had spent time and money to view this movie.
Jonathan (Unverified), 07/12/06
This is a real treat of a film, trailing the insipid Narnia of last year in its dark wake. In Franco's Spain, Ofelia travels with her sickly mother to join her step-father (a Fascist captain) deep in the forest. No wardrobes or Turkish delight here however: Ofelia is an unnecessary nuisance for the Captain and her beautiful mother is merely a vessel for his unborn son. Followed by a fairy messenger, Ofelia is led into a labyrinth, a portal to a kingdom where, centuries ago, she a was princess who ran away to see the sunlight.
Increasingly isolated by the death of her mother and the cruel brutality of her stepfather, she is led through a series of tasks that will enable her to become a princess once more, aided and hindered (and nearly eaten!) by a magical and by turns pretty disgusting cast of characters. The “real world” however is far more disturbing and visceral than the fantasy world into which she retreats. The stories of the Doctor and the maid Mercedes are dealt with superbly as they balance their ever-dangerous position in the Captain's service and their loyalty to the guerrilla forces (their friends, neighbours and families).
I was actually a bit shocked that this film is classed as a 15 as some of the torture and violence was very brutal, but not gratuitous. As in all good fairy tales, the baddies get their comeuppance and the princess gets to go home, but whether everyone lives happily ever after is a question for the history books.
Nina (Unverified), 27/11/06
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