Film Review: "Pan's Labyrinth"

by Caitlin Servilio

Frightening and beautiful—two words that describe in equal measure Pan’s Labyrinth, the dark vision from the mind of Guillermo del Toro. While I was enthralled by the storyline, characters, and visual spectacle that del Toro brought to this surreal fairy tale, I alternated between staring intently at the screen and literally covering my eyes with my hands.

Ofelia is one of those quiet, fragile-looking children who cling to fairy tales even when adults say they’re too old for them—as does Ofelia’s mother, the beautiful Carmen. Ofelia and Carmen have just joined Carmen’s new husband, Captain Vidal, at a remote forest outpost. The violent, mercurial Vidal is trying to exterminate the rebellion against Spain’s fascist regime. Carmen is struggling to hold on to her life as her pregnancy grows more and more dangerous.

Meanwhile, Ofelia slips into the ruins of an ancient labyrinth in the woods and stumbles into a world of fauns and fairies, who tell her she is the princess of another realm and has only to complete three tasks before she can return to a kingdom without suffering. As the atmosphere at the outpost grows more and more tense and violent, the smart, brave Ofelia tries to complete the tasks and save her family.

Pan’s Labyrinth contains one of the most chilling characters I’ve ever seen on screen—and I’m not referring to the gaunt giant with eyes in his hands, or the monstrous, obese frog, though those are certainly scary. I mean Sergi Lopez as Vidal. He captures more than any other actor the essence of a man capable of doing unspeakably bloody deeds without flinching, and every time he appeared I felt a strong sense of dread. Another standout is Maribel Verdu as a rebellious housekeeper, who proves to be Vidal’s match. But Ivana Baquero steals the movie as Ofelia, lacking the ridiculous cuteness of, say, Dakota Fanning, but poignantly depicting the depths of a child who’s lost both parents.

Del Toro stages the film darkly, with every set piece and CGI creature hinting at danger, but the movie is also quite lovely, and images of marble halls and huge trees remained in front of my eyes afterwards. Each individual gunshot in the movie is jarringly, upsettingly loud and immediate. The eerie soundtrack and flowing Spanish language only build atmosphere.

Even though I did spend some of it peeking through my fingers, I recommend seeing Pan’s Labyrinth—courageous viewers will find, like Ofelia, that fear is nothing compared to the beauty that awaits those brave enough to endure.

(Promotional poster from Picturehouse, a division of Time Warner. To see the R-rated film's trailer, please check below.)

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Anonymous said...

Never hearing of this movie before I found myself shaking as to what will happen in this movie. I don't know whether to be more excited about the movie or reading another excellent review by this author!

Caitlin Servilio said...

Thank you, and I hope you keep reading! It really is a good film, it made me shake in my boots too.

Anonymous said...

you describe the movie so eloquently, it makes me want to go out and see it for myself - even though i am not particularly a fantasy genre person.

Caitlin Servilio said...

Yes, it's not a very typical fantasy--certainly not along the lines of "Eragon" or anything. In some ways it's almost Burton-esque, but darker. Thanks so much for your comments.

Mary said...

I had never heard of the movie before Caitlin mentioned it, but this was a really intriguing review. It definitly made me want to go see the film. I like the idea of a darker fantasy with a young girl as the main character.

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