Pan’s Labyrinth (or, it’s original title, “El laberinto del fauno”) is a 2006 foreign fantasy/horror film directed by Guillermo del Toro, and it’s one of my favorite movies. Taking place in 1944, a few years after the Spanish Civil War, the film focuses in on a young girl fighting to cope with many changes and traumas that she has faced and is still facing as the story moves on. This dark fantasy also incorporates the reality of strife in post-Civil War Spain, tying it in with contrasting transitions.
The plot, with as few spoilers as I can manage, is as follows: A young girl named Ofelia moves in with her new stepfather, a ruthless military leader. In an overgrown, dilapidated labyrinth, she encounters a mythical creature – a Faun – who tells her that she is believed to be the princess of a forgotten world. However, she must prove that she is the princess by completing several tasks. But this is truly a dark fantasy, with realism tied in – a subplot involving Spanish rebels, the cruelty of Ofelia’s stepfather, and her mother’s declining health, all running parallel to Ofelia’s alternate world.
At first, it sounded fairly mild. I was lulled into a false sense of security by all this talk of princesses and fairies (although the dark coloration and lighting told me this was no lighthearted film). I admit, I was caught off-guard by the gruesome occurrences in both the reality and fantasy story lines. This really is a movie that can hold your attention, sometimes seizing it when you least expect it.
Full-bodied, detailed SFX makeup create fantastic creature designs, such as the Faun himself or perhaps the most terrifying antagonist, the Pale Man (both of whom are played by Doug Jones, who’s probably been in something else you’ve already seen). As the story progresses, most of the characters become more developed and fascinating, and you will either grow attached to them or hate them – either way, some emotion is invested, which is always a sign of a good character, protagonist and antagonist alike.
All in all, this movie has a captivating plot with subplots intertwined, all of which fall together at the end quite nicely. The final scene is fairly open-ended and can be interpreted to the watchers’ choosing – in short, it could either be a happy ending or a sad ending, depending on how you look at it. As a fantasy, it’s filled with beautiful images and modified versions of classic mythology. As a horror, it lacks the generic guts and gore that many horror fans seek, but it has plenty of little moments that will quench the blood thirst and several that will have you at the edge of your seat.