'Pan’s Labyrinth' Review: Darkly Enchanting
Despite the hoopla for Horrortober, I have to admit that my first film isn’t exactly on theme. There are moments of eeriness and some delightfully nightmarish creatures, to be sure, but unless we want to dive deeply into the frankly overplayed-to-zombified moral spin that “man is the REAL horror,” we have to admit that Pan’s Labyrinth isn’t out for spooks. We’ll leave its spiritual predecessor, The Devil’s Backbone, or director Guillermo Del Toro’s latest work, Crimson Peak, to hold that banner high.
That isn’t to say that Pan’s Labyrinth is a bright children’s fantasy, though – a fact Spanish audiences found out quickly after its original release. Set in 1944, in the midst of Francisco Franco’s dictatorship, the movie follows a young girl named Ofelia who meets a cast of grotesque and fantastic creatures when she moves with her mother to live with the Falangist captain, Vidal. While rebellion fighters clash with her hosts, Ofelia goes on a series of quests at the behest of an unnamed faun, who believes her to be the reincarnation of his long-lost princess. All of these elements twist about thanks to Del Toro’s brilliantly dark imagination, as our heroine outwits monstrous creatures and her step-father brutalizes the resistance fighters in his midst.
Body horror takes the high ground, in classic Del Toro fashion. Early in the film, we see Vidal break an innocent man’s nose into his skull, blood caking his face and splattering on to the lapels of his aggressor in a tightly-framed shot. The camera lingers on the scene, only to be followed by Vidal shooting the poor boy’s father at point-blank. Yet Ofelia’s fantasy realm is not safe from violence or the grotesque, either. Take, for instance, what is likely the second-most famous creature from the film, the Pale Man. With removable eyes in his palms and a taste for the blood of child and fairy, alike his shambling movements and surreal design make him an unforgettable adversary. Gore and violence demand audience attention, as the only viscera not thrust upon us is that of surgery or torture (the aftermath of the latter we are shown, however). It really is Del Toro’s ability to blend the fantastic with the historic that brings the film to life, creating subtle allegory while highlighting the terror inherent in both.
Pan’s Labyrinth uses touches of horror to evoke the heart of classic fairy tales – the good, terrifying, violent versions born in Europe, not our bleached-clean American Disney ones. These striking moments of violence blending in to magic and mystery really serve to show how much time and love Del Toro put into this movie. The acting is superb, the direction phenomenal, and the artistic design unparalleled by anyone else in the business. Pan’s won audience aplomb and a trio of Oscars, and it’s not hard to see why.
A classic in every sense, Pan’s Labyrinth is one of my favorite films of all time, and one I highly recommend. It’s that perfect kind of movie you can sit and watch for fun, or come back to later with a group of friends and really get a discussion going about – what was real, what was symbolic, where do your allegiances lie? The only hurdle for this fantastic flick may be for those who are averse to watching with subtitles, but that’s literally no price to pay for the masterpiece at hand. It isn’t hyperbole, folks: Pan’s Labyrinth really is one of Guillermo’s best, if not one of the finest films of the last decade.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, this fanboy needs to go cry in a corner about Silent Hills for a while.
Final Verdict: Watch It