Pan's Labyrinth (2006)
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Review Date: December 25, 2006
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Writer: Guillermo del Toro
Producers: Álvaro Augustín, Alfonso Cuarón, Bertha Navarro, Guillermo del Toro, Frida Torresblanco
Ivana Baquero as Ofelia
Doug Jones as Pan/Pale Man
Sergi Lopez as Captain Vidal
The year is 1944, and a sweet little girl is taken up to the mountains by her pregnant mother, in order to meet her new stepfather, who is the fascist captain of a military outfit up there, sworn to fight the last of the rebels still hiding out in that territory. Lonely and book-hungry, the young girl finds herself transported into a fantasy world in which she meets creatures who attempt to convince her that she used to be a princess. What is this girl’s true destiny? A labyrinth of ideas ensues…
As seen at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival

Director Guillermo del Toro seems to have been perfecting his craft over the years with films such as BLADE 2, THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE and HELLBOY, as his latest cinematic adventure delves deeper into many of the darker themes that the auteur has been wrestling with since his debut with 1993’s CRONOS, while taking it all to a much higher level, both visually and emotionally. But don’t let that fool you into thinking that this film isn’t bloody, gory and gross either, as del Toro combines the fantastical story of a young girl stuck in a situation that she doesn’t like or control (an analogy to the fascist regime of those day?), with a super-villain nasty fascist military captain, who doesn’t mind shooting people directly in the head over and over and over again, just to make sure that they’re dead. The film is also filled with various creatures from beyond, including floating insect-fairies , monster toads, something called the Pale-Man that has to be seen to be believed and a faun named Pan, who is one of the creepiest things I’ve seen prancing around on the big screen since Kathy Bates removed her top in ABOUT SCHMIDT.

Seriously though, I’m generally bowled over by the “stories” in my favorite movies, and this one had many elements that engaged me, including its dark nature, an innocent child placed within a war-infected circumstance, relationships between mother, daughter and step-dad and ultimately, a challenging fairy tale fantasy that is either real or created in this little girl’s mind, and let’s not forget, the cavalcade of bugs and icky bits sticking about as a visual nightmare that wrapped the entire movie in a creepy cloak of dread. I enjoyed a lot about this film, but one of the things that most stuck with me all the way through was its look, which came across as thoroughly authentic and mucho eerie, particularly all of its “fantasy sequences”. The actors were also extremely effective, including the lead girl, Ivana Baquero, who has to carry a lot of the film on her back, as well as the lead villain, played delectably well by Sergi Lopez. This guy has gotta be one of the coldest mother-effers on the face of the planet…and I “liked” him that way! The film would likely have worked without him as well, but with a nasty bugger like him at its center, the whole thing was taken to an entirely cooler level. Maribel Verdu is also very good as the little girl’s confidante in the film, and has you caring about herself and her plight to help others.

Another awesome thing about this movie is that despite mixing up some elements from various other productions that have come before it, including ALICE IN WONDERLAND, THE SHINING, SLEEPY HOLLOW, WIZARD OF OZ and even del Toro’s own HELLBOY, it ultimately comes across as wholly original, with a script written by the director himself, combining a children’s fairy tale with sinister themes, monsters and killings, all of which make the movie a brilliant adult fantasy flick with a surprising amount of humanity to boot. I’m sure this film won’t play to everyone, since it does tread the dark side of civilization, while offering some pretty disturbing visual images along the way (and it’s sub-titled, which didn’t bother me one bit, but bothers some), but for anyone who has enjoyed any of del Toro’s works before this, or if you simply appreciate an original movie filled with interesting characters and set in a time not seen in many contemporary movies, you’re sure to dig on much of what this film has to offer, and even moreso if you dig on the many haunting visuals that bring it all to life. This was the best movie that I saw at this year’s Cannes Film Festival and it’s already at the top of my list of faves for the entire year as well. I only wish more people in Hollywood would take chances on films with this kind of imagination behind it. Can’t wait for its North American release around Halloween…cool shit!!
(c) 2018 Berge Garabedian

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