Thursday 26 March 2020

Movie Review: Pan's Labyrinth (2006)

An adult fairytale and horror drama, Pan's Labyrinth creates a mystical world adjacent to the darkness of fascism, and explores humanity's options in the face of monsters.

It's 1944 in Spain, and Franco's Nationalists are victorious. Captain Vidal (Sergi López) welcomes his pregnant wife Carmen (Ariadna Gil) to his military camp at the edge of a forest where the remnants of anti-Franco Republican forces are still active. Young Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) is Carmen's daughter from a previous marriage, and she is contacted by magical creatures and led into a labyrinth where she meets Faun (Doug Jones), a half-man, half goat. He provides Ofelia with a series of tests to confront intimidating monsters, to confirm if she is a long-awaited immortal underworld princess.

Meanwhile the vicious Vidal wants to flush out and kill the hold-out revolutionaries, not knowing that his housekeeper Mercedes (Maribel Verdú) and camp doctor Ferreiro (Álex Angulo) are sympathetic to the Republicans. Carmen's pregnancy is complicated, but Vidal yearns for a son to pass on the warrior legacy he inherited from his father. With Ofelia growing more courageous and Mercedes actively helping the rebels, an existential confrontation looms.

From the imagination of director and writer Guillermo del Toro, Pan's Labyrinth juxtaposes real and fantasy worlds, exposing the monsters in both. Adopting the perspective of young Ofelia, the film is a dazzling visual and emotional experience and a breathtaking battle between forces with no obvious good cause, as evil in human form and mythical creatures of the forest offer contrasting challenges and no easy answers.

The film is uncompromising in its commitment to exposing brutality. Vidal is a heartless killer pursuing a lineage legend of his own making. Despite all the power he wields, Ofelia sees right through his bombast and never once attempts to appease him. And when Faun, himself a shifty character, challenges her to confront a hideous giant toad and a pale faceless child killer, she is equally fearless.

But even Ofelia is not perfect, nor is her fate pre-ordained. She succumbs to temptation as del Toro introduces religious overtones, and Ofelia compromises a legacy that only she will ultimately define. As the showdown between Vidal and the rebels intensifies, so does Ofelia's imperative to intervene where it matters most.

Combining layers of make-up, astounding animatronics, and seamless CGI, del Toro brings creatures to life in visually rich scenes filled with wonder, but with sinister danger always lurking. The action moves briskly back and forth between the mystical labyrinth and Vidal's compound, Carmen's burdensome pregnancy counting down to the birth of what could become a future monster under Vidal's tutelage. 

But the newborn will also be Ofelia's half-brother, and as she works her way through to understanding her role, the real and imagined worlds merge to offer the purest of destinies.

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