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Pan's Labyrinth
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by EricDSnider

"A Grimm fairy tale for grown-ups"
5 stars

Dios mio, what a movie is "Pan's Labyrinth"! It's a dark fairy tale, complete with a wicked stepparent, but by no means is it for children. Yet if it weren't for the grim, sometimes shocking violence, it would be the sort of story children love, with a young hero encountering fantasy, mystery, and magic.

Call it a fairy tale for grown-ups, then, written and directed by Mexican filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro ("Blade II," "Hellboy") and set in Spain in 1944. The Spanish Civil War has been over for five years, but Franco's fascist armies are still rooting out resistance sympathizers hiding in the hills and fighting guerrilla warfare. A particular government-owned mill has been attacked by these freedom fighters, so Franco has sent military forces to guard it.

Into this dreary situation comes a little girl named Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) and her mother, Carmen (Ariadna Gil). Ofelia's father was killed during the war and Carmen has since remarried and gotten pregnant. Her new husband is Capt. Vidal (Sergi Lopez), the commandant at the mill. He has sent for his new wife and stepdaughter to join him -- primarily, it would seem, so that he can supervise the birth of his heir, to hell with the wife and stepdaughter.

We know immediately that Capt. Vidal is a stern, authoritarian man, different only in gender from the stepparents of the Grimms' fairy tales. Soon we see he's even worse than that: He's also a cruel, vicious killer. His treatment of two men suspected of being resistance fighters is offered as proof.

While exploring the grounds surrounding the outpost, young Ofelia encounters a stone labyrinth in which she meets a faun -- a goat-man, like Mr. Tumnus in "The Chronicles of Narnia," except this one (played by Doug Jones) is more fantastic and ghastly looking, part nightmare and part children's story. He's extremely tall and walks on bent legs and cloven hooves that do not seem at all ergonomic. His voice is a deep growl that hovers between serene and menacing.

The faun tells Ofelia that she is the princess of the underworld. She left her home and her true father, the king, years ago, took human form, and forgot her past life. Her people have been eagerly awaiting her return via a portal in the center of the labyrinth. But before the portal can be opened, Ofelia must -- you guessed it -- complete three tasks. (There are always three tasks, aren't there?)

Ofelia's tasks involve collecting certain supernatural artifacts, guided in part by the faun's instructions and by a magic book he gives her that reveals her instructions. Some of these sequences are spellbinding and frightening, scary enough to make you hide your face, but so macabrely imaginative that you're compelled to watch. Why, there's a monster whose eyes are on his hands! And looks what he does to those poor fairies! I can't bear to watch/can't resist watching!

Meanwhile, Del Toro balances this exciting fairy-tale world with the stark terrors of real life. Capt. Vidal continues to wage war on the resistance fighters in the hills, unaware that certain members of his household staff are sneaking food and medicine to them. Is fantasy the only escape from the treachery of the real world?

Del Toro is exploring deep themes here, with long, symbolic histories. The story of an innocent who comes to this world from a better one and longs to shake off the shackles of mortality and return to paradise is as old as time. And just as deeply entrenched in our consciousness is the sad fact that no matter how horrible a thing your imagination can conjure, real people are capable of much worse. The real monster in "Pan's Labyrinth" isn't the creature with eyes on its hands; it's Capt. Vidal.

We also find an undercurrent of viva la revolucion in Del Toro's curious fable. Unquestioning obedience to authority is depicted as a poor philosophy to go by ... except in one sequence, where Ofelia's failure to blindly obey instructions almost gets her killed. I'm not sure what message we should glean from that -- follow the rules sometimes; other times, think for yourself? -- but this morbid, visually stunning fairy tale gives you plenty to think about and plenty to be entertained by.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=14849&reviewer=247
originally posted: 12/28/06 23:27:09
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Toronto Film Festival For more in the 2006 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

9/21/17 morris campbell good horror fantasy check it out 4 stars
1/30/16 Alexis H Cold reality and dangerous fantasy collide in the fight for freedom 4 stars
11/12/13 Vanessa Campos I loved this movie for the fantasy and reality it portrayed. 5 stars
8/12/11 jiropan best dark fantasy film of all time..... 5 stars
5/15/11 stephen nettles OUTSTANDING 5 stars
9/26/10 KingNeutron Really disturbing in parts, but well made -- Note, Subtitled 4 stars
9/03/10 Simon Strange yet so fresh and intriguing the 1st time I saw it, 2nd viewing confirms its beauty 5 stars
6/05/10 User Name Del Toro magnificantly illuminates the grimness of reality and Olivia's fantasy. 5 stars
9/16/09 bored mom A fucking awesome psychological fantasy allegory set in fascist-era Spain 5 stars
6/15/09 MP Bartley A seriously impressive achievement. 5 stars
2/16/09 dolph G Spanish is the best language for the flim and one of the greats!! 5 stars
2/13/09 Raul Valdez Jr I dont give a sh!t what you all think but this movie needs to be in english 5 stars
2/29/08 Tammy Kennedy When i first got this movie i thought it was for kids, wow I was wrong. I liked it though 4 stars
2/09/08 R.W.Welch Creative stuff, tho a shade overdone at times. 4 stars
11/17/07 Brian Mckay "Bridge to Genocide-ia" is more like it - very dark and gritty film full of metaphors 4 stars
9/17/07 Axel A beautiful fantastical horrific sad movie.. BEAUTIFUL!! 5 stars
9/15/07 David Cohen Wouldn't call it a masterpiece, but I enjoyed it 4 stars
9/02/07 Kendra A good movie just a lil gory 4 stars
7/31/07 Shana Poorly written, especially the fantasy part which isn't really tied in well. Almost cheesy 2 stars
7/28/07 steven kelly Powerful, haunting, beautifully filmed; a masterpiece. 5 stars
7/11/07 Hello Stranger why would you rate a film based on how gory it is? idiots. this is a great take on fantasy 5 stars
7/06/07 AnnieG Can't understand what people love about this film ... it's lame fantasy and too violent 3 stars
7/02/07 William Goss A grand historical fable worth getting lost in. Just spectacular all-around. 5 stars
6/15/07 Mark Hambly Agree with all the good comments - Fantastic and mesmerising dark fantasy fable - Watch it! 5 stars
6/08/07 kalika Too gory, story line was under developed 2 stars
5/25/07 tony del Toro fulfills on the promise of Devil's Backbone; superior to Cronos 5 stars
5/25/07 Jiz Strong characters, great atmosphere, but a little too drawn-out. 4 stars
5/24/07 Tracey Chambers great movie. dark and very, creepy. 5 stars
5/21/07 Dark Enchantress one of the best films ever! 5 stars
5/21/07 action movie fan good special effects but story was much too lame 3 stars
5/16/07 Quigley Del Toro finally came through for me. Lives up to the title "masterpiece" in every way. 5 stars
4/13/07 Rayven Simply the best movie I have seen in a long long while-a masterpiece!! 5 stars
4/05/07 The Velcro Warlock One friggin' wierd film. Stays with you, but not necessarily in a good way. 2 stars
4/01/07 dtx120 Artsy, brutal, conflicting, and not nearly what I expected. One of the best of 06. 5 stars
3/13/07 Kerri Awesome film! 5 stars
3/12/07 guisada wow 5 stars
3/01/07 Anti-Xen Not bad at all, but lacking a certain something... 3 stars
2/28/07 malcolm creepy, captivating, with gorgeous set pieces 5 stars
2/27/07 Keystra Williams Got screwed out of the big prize on sunday! Boo! 5 stars
2/27/07 Jennifer Spry A beautiful dream 5 stars
2/20/07 Beau one of the best top ten movies i have ever seen in this decade, great acting 5 stars
2/18/07 dmitry Fantastic, makes "Children of Men" seem like a cartoon in comparison 5 stars
2/10/07 Jim Good, but not as good as Devil's Backbone; still better than 90% of Hollywood junk 4 stars
2/10/07 jcjs wonderful, just a masterpiece..has to be his best 5 stars
2/08/07 The chode Best movie of 2006, hands down. 5 stars
2/07/07 Dark Enchantress It was a great movie, but i thought there should of been more fantasy in it! 5 stars
2/07/07 toni amazing but with an underlining sadness 5 stars
2/03/07 The Talking Elbow Maybe not for everybody, it's sad but remarkable. 5 stars
1/29/07 Kate A STUNNING MASTERPIECE 5 stars
1/29/07 del Cranky and lee should both be shot in the genitals. 5 stars
1/28/07 TyrantisTerror Art in every positive sense of the word. 5 stars
1/28/07 Lisa Craven Loved it, very entertaining, kept me interested. 4 stars
1/28/07 Cranky Great when on crack, stupid illegal language which screwed it up! 1 stars
1/27/07 lee boring and belligerantly violet with no meaning behind its entirety 2 stars
1/25/07 Arlette Alice in Wonderland on crack. Great juxtaposition of two worlds. Loved the Dorothy "red sho 5 stars
1/25/07 Marty amazing movie. still can't believe that bitch ate that grape. 5 stars
1/22/07 Bitchflaps The feminist angle and the characters are underdeveloped, the allegory is overstated. 2 stars
1/21/07 Rob Loved it. Best film I've seen this year so far. 5 stars
1/20/07 Max I'm proud this Mexican film is touching hearts all over the world 5 stars
1/20/07 Ole Man Bourbon Very well done, entertaining throughout. 5 stars
1/13/07 hanabatake amazing, moving, horrifying. I can't get the images out of my mind. 5 stars
1/12/07 Deadly Assassin One of the best fantasy films ever...much better than that D& D crap !!!! 5 stars
1/09/07 kris Highly original, sad and brutal. An attack on fascism and Catholic Church. 5 stars
12/29/06 lee Best movie of the year!!!!!!!!!!!! 5 stars
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  29-Dec-2006 (R)
  DVD: 15-May-2007



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