#89: Pan’s Labyrinth [2006]

Guillermo del Toro’s Spanish-language fairy tale is most definitely not family friendly. As I sat down ready to watch Pan’s Labyrinth with my older brother, he asked me what it was about. Having no previous knowledge of the film other than a few TV adverts featuring the Faun, I reassured him: ‘It’s some artsy kids film. Should be cool’. How wrong I was, well about the kids bit anyway. The mistake was revealed, and rather dramatically so, when evil antagonist Captain Vidal bashes an innocent man’s nose into his brain, on screen. My brother and I exchanged horrified looks as I apologised, nuzzling guiltily into my scarf.
Del Toro does not shy away from violence in this grown up and very serious fairytale. There’s no cuteness, no laughter. Instead, the director/producer/script-writer returns to the more traditional nature of the genre: dark and disturbing tales of horror. The pictures of mysterious underground kingdoms and mystical creatures are painted on the background of Spain’s early Francoist period, as Fascism establishes its grip on the country in 1944. Most of the plot revolves around young protagonist Ofelia’s survival in the harsh world of her stepfather’s ruthless battle against freedom fighters, her adventures in a fantastical realm constituting a comment on the historical events.
I won’t provide much comment on the plot here. To do so would be to dishonour del Toro’s superlative storytelling. In terms of cinematography and narrative, each twist and turn is revealed with such expertise that you can’t describe this film as anything less than a marvel. The aforementioned horrified glances between siblings continued throughout the film, yet always with an undercurrent of awe. Relentlessly, the film psychologically besieges its audience as Ofelia’s story unfurls. Yet, never is there any heavy-handedness or superfluity in the bloodshed and horror portrayed. Scene after scene of strong violence and considerably more than ‘mild peril’ shock the viewer, and yet there’s still room enough to create genuine sympathy for Ofelia, her mother and the rebels. Del Toro manipulates his audience with impressive deftness, simultaneously causing us to freak out (I was all over the place) and curl up into a snivelling ball of emotion (my brother had to put his arm round me as I sobbed over the end credits). In short, this film reduced me to a blithering mess, for which I respect it immensely.
If you haven’t already, I can’t encourage you enough to check out this incredibly intelligent fairy tale. While there hasn’t been sufficient space here to discuss them, del Toro explores some truly sophisticated ideas and real life issues in this film, irrefutably his beloved brainchild. I suppose my recommendation should come with some form of disclaimer though, as your dreams will undoubtedly take on a different tone after you watch this film. Still, del Toro’s stunning creation is not to be missed. Feel free to share your own memories of your emotional turmoil during this film in the comment section below. Be sure to sign it though!

Sam's summary: 'Horrible, horrible, horrible'.